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The History of Medieval Jewish Libraries: The

Interplay between Orality, oral transmission,
and Textuality Within the Context of Rabbinic
institutions and Educational Curriculum
However when the wise man lies down in death with his fathers, he leaves behind him a treasured
and organized blessing: books that enlighten like the brilliance of the firmament (Daniel 12:3) and
that extend peace like a river (Isa. 66:12)

Rabbi Shimon Ben Zemach Duran, Zohar HaRakia, HaKadma, 13611444

My pen is my harp and my lyre; my library is my garden and my orchard.

~ Judah Ha-Levi Spanish Poet, Physician, 10751141

Make books your companions; let your bookshelves be your gardens: bask in their beauty, gather their
fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and myrrh. And when your soul be weary, change from garden
to garden, and from prospect to prospect.

~Rabbi Judah Ibn Tibbon, Provance, France, c. 1120-1190

Short Abstract:

The evolution of Jewish medieval library collections evolved over the Tannaitic (70 CE to 200 CE),
Amoraic (200-500 CE), Savoraim (500-600) Geonic (600-900), Rishonim (900-1450), Achronim (1450-
Shoah)periods as the genres of Jewish knowledge expanded and the world of Jewish knowledge
developed in an oral tradition that later was set down. Simchah Assaf, Mordecai Breur, Ephraim
Kanarfogel, Isidore Twerski, Adin Steinsaltz, Menachem Elon in Mishpat Ivri, and Nathan Drazin have
shown that this evolution of the Jewish library within the context of Jewish educational institutions
such as the medieval Yeshivot, Rabbinic Academies, Beit Midrashim, Synagogues, and self-regulating
Jewish Communal government (kehilah) allowed for the classification and organization of manuscripts
and sefarim.

Assaf gathered source materials on premodern Jewish education which has recently been updated and
reedited, which hopefully a sign of augmented interest in premodern Jewish education. materials
organized geographically and chronologically. Assafs first volume is devoted to sources for the history
of schooling in Ashkenazic Jewry, ranging from France and Germany and on into Poland; the second
volume is devoted to materials from premodern Mediterranean Jewry--Spain, southern France, and
Italy; the third volume is devoted to Jewish communities of the Middle East; the fourth and final volume
consists of materials discovered by Assaf subsequent to the prior volumes. Of the large sets of historical
overviews by Graetz and Baron, (1) Graetz's focuses on Jewish learning is confined to the elites of
scholarship the master scholars and their works, (2) Barons Jewish Community, a three--volume work
published in 1942, In the second volume, Baron included a rich chapter entitled Education and Public
Enlightenment. Note the sections into which Baron divides his chapter: communal responsibility,
rewards of learning, educational goals, books and libraries, escape, and fulfillment. Other articles on
Jewish education include Albert Baumgarten's "Literacy and the Polemic Concerning Biblical
Hermeneutics in the Second Temple Era;" "Isaiah Gafni's On the Education of Children in the Talmudic
Era: Tradition and Reality;" and Yom Toy Assis's "Jewish Elementary Education in Christian Spain (13th-
14th Centuries): Communities versus Charitable Societies." and a significant treatment of premodern
jewish education can be found in the recently published volume entitled Visions of Jewish Education,
edited by Seymour Fox, Israel Scheffler, and Daniel Marom (2002). The heart of this volume lies with
four essays intended to lay bare a variety of educational views held within segments of the Jewish
world. The first of these essays, written by the late Isadore Twersky, focuses on Maimonides and
attempts to identify the heart of his educational system. It is a path--breaking effort toward the
elucidation of the educational views of a major premodern Jewish thinker. Also Ivan Marcus in his book,
Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe, in chapter 3 offers the important essay,
Ancient Jewish Pedagogy and the two books by Robert Chazan (Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval
Western Christendom) and Theodore Steinberg (Jews and Judaism in the Middle Ages) shed light on the
topic of medieval Jewish learning. Jews invested in learning and intellectual capital rather than often
building Cathedral like structures and with the prohibition on graven images (lo oseh likhah pesel) the
emphasis was on literacy so art did not play the kind of role it plays in Christianity to teach the alogos
Bible stories by viewing paintings, stained glass windows, and statues.1 Literacy and memorized

Israel Jacob Yuval recognizes that orality of transmission of oral text is esoteric however takes a historical and
sociological approach to explaining the hegemony of pervasive orality of torah shebeal peh. He argues that oral
law and the insistence upon its transmission and study in an oral manner developed against the background of
parallel developments in early Christianity which the Rabbis wished to separate themselves from. He notes that
the written torah is a text but around the time of the birth of Christianity the law of Jesus was not considered a
text but an oral tradition concerning his life. Thus according to Yuval the rabbis put in place a competing
ideological culture of orality by the doctrine of emphasizing the dual torah which separates Judaism from
Christianity whereby the rabbi transformed orality into a coterminous divine revelation with written torah.
Because Christians also claimed the written torah the rabbis responded with an oral torah which the Christians
could not appropriate and because Christianity defined itself by means of an alternative text- the NT. The Jews
responded by creating an alternative text the Mishnah and thereafter the two Talmudim. Thus whenever Judaism
wanted to separate itself from Christianity it evokes the esoteric tradition of oral torah that is transmitted only to
initiates in an oral manner. The rabbis were therefore intent upon preserving their teachings in an oral manner to
exclude competing religious sects like Christianity. It is only by virtue of oral esoteric torah transmitted orally that
Judaism can separate itself fully from and exclude Christians. In response to Christians the rabbis separate from
them by fencing off oral secret traditions that are only transmitted orally. Yuval writes, Precisely in light of the
heavy threat posed by Christianity and in light of its attempt to adopt the Jewish scriptures as its own, Rabbinic
Judaism developed a new religious doctrine emphasizing two elements: halakhah and orality. The halakhah is the
contents and orality is the language by whose means there was created the rabbinic answer to the Christian
soteriology. It was not faith in Jesus that redeems, but rather the observance of Gods commandments and their
oral study, transmitted from mouth to ear. (p.248) Thus oral torah transmitted orally is seen to arise out of
knowledge that is internalized is portable like movable capital (mitaltalein) and thus the Jews could
transport their education from their wanderings in the diaspora. Exogenous factors such as restrictions
in medieval charters, discrimination as dhimis or paying additional Jew taxes, persecution such as
pogroms and Crusades, and massacres ensured literacy, learning and education that was mobile for one
cannot take away from one what one knows.

Nehemya Allony studied _Book Lists from the Cairo Genizah _ . Geniza scholarship can be characterized
however by methodologies and approaches . For instance Davidson looked at poetry from the Geniza
and the Israeli scholars Menachem Zulay, Hayyim Schirman (Hebrew Poetry from Spain and Provence),
and Ezra Fleischer of the Israel National Academy for Geniza Research Institute for Hebrew Poetry
exponentially increased the knowledge of the medieval poetic genre from the Geniza. Goitein in his
multivolume set _The Mediterranean society_ and _Letters from the Geniza_ focuses mostly on trade
and account book documents bringing order to the common daily trade documents and organizing this
detritus of history with a mystical sense of resurrecting the vibrant life of the Medieval Mediterranean.
Jacob Mann has looked at documents of Evidence- letters, contracts, court records on communal life.
Scholars such as Rabinowitz, Schechter, and many others looked at halakhic/legal texts from the Geniza.
Schechter2 also gave Louis Ginzberg a text which Ginzberg published under the title _Ein Unbekannte
Juedische Secte_ which related to_The Damascus Document_ which my teacher Rabbi Joseph
Baumgarten published and edited with notes and critical apparatus in Studies in the Judean Desert_
from a facsimile of the Damascus document found at Qumran in the 1950s. More recently Mark Cohen
of the Princeton Geniza project which hosts a text garden database with an ethical social conscience
has looked at the status of the vulnerable in Jewish society such as widows, poor, orphans, divorced
women, etc. from texts in the Geniza published in a 2 vol. set Poverty and charity in the Jewish
community of medieval Egypt. Thus the Geniza has been approached with many methodologies and
types of approaches. The Librarian Stefen Reif who has focused on liturgical aspects of the genizah.
Most recently since 1999 Toronto currency trader and bibliophile Albert Friedberg has financed under
the auspices of cyberwizard Yaacov Choueka is revolutionizing access to Geniza texts, with the goal of
making available at the mere click of a mouse on the Friedberg website along with nearly half a million
items of data about the 331,351 folios from the Ben Ezra cache.

historical forces in the Pharisees struggle with the challenge of the adoption of the written torah by Christianity,
see: Yuval, Israel Jacob, The orality of the Jewish oral law: from pedagogy to ideology, in Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam in the course of history: exchange and conflicts, 237-260.) Yuval recognizes that this separation by
means of the ideology of the orality of the oral torah also takes on a role of esotericism. He writes, even if the
oral text is canonic and transmitted very faithfully, its transmission is very limited and can be kept away from
unwanted listeners (p. 249).
The puritanical _Fragments of a Zadokite Work_ (the first and principal part of the Jewish sectaries volume)
comprised what Schechter diplomatically put it was the constitution and the teachings of a sect long ago extinct
but in which we may perhaps easily detect the parent of later schisms with which history dealt more leniently
Schechter is referring to the Dead Sea Scroll sect as analogous to other sects such as the Sadducees, Karaites, and
Reform movements within Judaism. According to Baumgarten Schecther failed to realize the importance of DDS
texts for shedding light on normative rabbinic practices of their day.
Malachi Beit-Arie3 [with whom DBL took a seminar at The University of Pennsylvania], and Shamma
Friedman are exemplary experts in medieval scribal practices that shed light on collections of Rabbinic
texts during the medieval ages. Also scholars like Yakov Ellman, Martin Jaffee, Elizabeth Alexander,
Moshe Idel, and others have clarified the Rabbinic ideology of the fact of pervasive orality that
proscribed the writing down of texts during these periods which must be taken into consideration when
reconstructing textual collections of the medieval ages. Two Talmudic sugyot speak of the prohibition of
writing down oral torah in Temurah 14b4 and Gittin 60b.5 The sugya in Temurah reads:

But if Rav Dimi would have had the opportunity to send the letter would it have been permitted for
him to send it? Why R Abba the son of Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:
Those who write down the law of the oral torah are like one who burns the
Torah- and one who studies from these manuscripts gains no reward- [The gemara

According to beit Arie, the Jews adhered to the rollbook (scrolls) in order to differ from Christians who first used
the codex for disseminating the NT.and translated OT. (see Malachi Beit-Arie, The Hebrew Manuscripts of East and
West. Towards a Comparative Codicology, London, 1992; Colin H. Roberts, Theodore Skeat, The Birth of the Codex,
Oxford, 1983; This argument plays into Yuvals thesis nicely as when Yuval writes, The desire to distinguish oneself
from Christianity also led evidently to the use of books in the form of scrolls rather than in that of codexes, and this
was consistent with their refraining from creating a written literature altogether and the insistence that the
transmission of halakhic and midrashic knowledge be done orally and not in writing (p.251).
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cites another teaching that the oral law may be transcribed], Similarly Rabbi Yehudah bar Nachmani
the spokesman for Reish Lakish expounded one verse states Write for yourself these words which
indicates that the Torah is to be written- But another verse, i.e the end of the same verse states: for
on the basis of these words I have established a covenant with you. The phrase al pi can be interpreted
by mouth, and thus alludes to the laws that are orally transmitted. The first part of the verse indicates
that the words of the torah are to be written and the second part of the verse indicates that they are
to be transmitted orally, however this is not a contradiction. The verse means to tell you- Teachings
that were given to you orally you are not permitted to transmit in writing; and teachings that were
given to you in writing i.e. The Five books of Moses, you are not permitted to transmit orally

We learn from here that These words of the Pentateuch you may write- But you may not write
orally transmitted laws. In light of these sources, how could Rav Dimi have proposed sending Rav
Yosef this reconciliation of the Baraisos by letter? [The gemara answers]: They said: Perhaps the law
regarding a novel matter is different. for it is known that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish would
examine a book of Aggadah on the Sabbath- And they expounded a verse to justify their actions thus:
- the verse states When it is a time to act for Hashem, nullify your Torah [Tehillim 119:1266] .- They
said based on this verse, that is preferable that one letter of the torah be uprooted i.e. the law that
prohibits the transcribing of oral torah, so that the torah itself should not be forgotten from Israel.
Thus it was permitted for Reish Laikish and Rabbi Yochanan to have and use a written work of Aggada
and it would likewise have been permitted for Rav Dimi to write his letter to Rav Yosef.

The sugya In Gittin 60b reads:

Rabbi Yehudah bar Nachmani the speak for Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish expounded It is written: Write
for yourself these words, which indicates that the torah is to be written. And it is written later in the
same verse: For on the basis of these words, which indicates that the Torah is to be transmitted orally
How is this apparent contradiction to be resolved? Teachings that were handed down to Moses in
writing i.e. scripture- you are not permitted to transmit orally. Teachings that were given to you orally
you are not permitted to transmit in writing.

A Baraisa derives from these laws from the verse in a different fashion. In the academy of Rabbi
Yishmael, the following baraisa was taught: The verse states Write for yourself these words. We learn
from here that These words of scripture you may write.- But you may not write orally transmitted
laws. [The gemara now cites a teaching it alluded to above]: Rabbi Yochanan said : The Holy one
Blessed is He, established a covenant with Israel- only on the basis of the oral teachings- As the verse
states- for on the basis of these words- I have established a covenant with you- and with Israel.

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Rashi comments on the prohibition of writing the oral law by noting: From here you learn that in order
to prevent the oral law form being forgotten.7 [

Midrash Tanhuma brings down in the name of Rabbi Judah ben Shalom that when the Holy one
Blessed by He- said to Moses write down Moses asked that the Mishnah be written, but because the
Holy One blessed be He- knew that the nations of the world will translate the Torah and read it in
Greek and say We are Israel.8 [ "
] "

Therefore the Mishnah was given orally to Moses so that the oral law must remain the unique
inheritance of Israel to prevent Gentiles from appropriating it as they attempted to appropriate the
written law when it was translated into Greek.

The rabbinic ideology of the dual torah as seen in the paradoxical saying, Even that which a venerable
student shall teach before his master in the future, is Torah given to Moses at Sinai.9 Rabban Gamaliel
II in a response to the question of a Roman official as to how many Torahs were given to Israel,
responded, Two: one oral and one written.10 Mishnah Avot 1:1 plays into the orality of the oral torah
for the phrase Moses received Torah from Sinai Rashi notes refers to the written and oral torah
together because the text does not specify only Ha-Torah which would mean only the written torah.
The dual torah ideology of written and oral text is based upon a reading of Exodus 34:27 And the L-rd
said to Moses: Write these words, for in accordance with [literally: by mouth of [these words] I have
made a covenant with you and with Israel. Wrote by mouth of refers to orality. Exodus Rabbah
comments on the pusek from Exodus 3:27 in order to separate Jews from the surrounding host culture. 11
According to Jaffee orality is not to separate Rabbinic culture from competing groups such as Christians,
but a framework that ensures the dependence of the disciple upon his teacher or mentor.12In the 13th
century in the kabbalistic work shalshelet ha-qabbalah (chain fo tradition) Elijah the prophet is seen as
the originator of all Kabbalistic secrets to Mikubalim like Abraham ben Isaac, who then revealed them to

Rashi on Git. 60b
Midrash Tanhuma, ed. With comment Hanokh Zundel (Jerusalem, 1975), Pericope Ki Tissa p.12; The text notes
further, HaKadosh barukh Hu said to the nations: You say that you are my sons? I only know that those with my
mysterium is to be found, they are my sons. And what is that? That is the Mishnah which I gave orally, and
everything is for you to expound.
J Peah 2.4 (17a).
Sifrei Devarim 351.
[Moses] said before [The Holy one blessed be He]: Master of the world! I shall write it for them. He said tohim: I
do not ask you to give it to them in writing, for it is revealed before Me that idolaters shall in the future dominate
them and take if from them Rather, I give them the scripture in writing, and the Mishnah and Talmudim and
aggadah, I give them orally, so that if the pagans come and they become subjugated to them, they shall be
separate from them.; Ex. Rab 47 expounds later: Further along it says there: For according to these things I have
made a covenant with you and with Israel (Ex. 34:27)- for had it not been your receiving the oral torah, I would
have returned heaven and earth to chaos.
Jaffee, Martin, Torah in the Mouth, Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism, 200 BCE-400 CE, Ny: 2001,
his son in law Abraham ben David who in turn revealed them to his son Isaac the Blind (Mikubal in
Provenance France).13

According to contemporary research up to the very end of the Geonic period the Talmud remained
literally in the category of oral law. Robert Brody quotes two responsa of the 10th century Academy of
Pumbeditha. In the first, Aaron Sarjado speaks of the recitation (girsa) of the entire academy and it is
known that the recitation is from the mouths of the Masters, and most of them do not know what a book
is-. In the Epistle of the Sherira Gaon sent to Jacob b. Nissim and to the men of Kairwan (987), he
answers the question, How were the Mishnah and Talmud written? and explains: The Talmud and the
Mishnah were not written but rather composed and the Rabbis are careful to recite it orally, but not from

Ellman admits that during the Tannatic, Amoraic, and Geonic periods many pinqasayot and megillot
setarim were written down. Elman writes, In Babylonia where orality predominated, transmission of
texts was oral; even when written exemplars were available, as in the case of Scripture, much was
quoted by heart. Reports of megillot setarim, private notes, all refer to the situation in Palestine. 14
Yerahmiel Brody expressed skepticism as to their use in Babylonia.15 However Ellman argues that the
Amoraim masters are hardly ever depicted as having had recourse to written texts of Bavli with which

Shem Tov ibn Gaon, Badde ha-Aron u-Migdal Hananel, facsimile ed. Based on Ms. 840 in the Natiaonl Library,
Paris, ed. D.S. Loewinger (Jerusalem, 1977), 29; Keter Shem tov in Maor wa-Shemesh, ed. J. Koriat (Livorno 1939),
35b; Shem tov ibn Shem Tov, Sefer ha-Emunot (Ferrara, 1560, 35b; According to another version of the chain Elijah
revealed the secrets to David, who in turn passed it on to Isaac the blind (Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, Sefer Meirat
Einayim by R. Isaac of Acre: A Critical edition, ed. A. Goldreich, Jerusalem, 1981, 84). In another version Elijah
revealed the secrets to David, the father of Abraham ben David, who revealed them to his son, and Abraham who
passed them on to his son, Isaac the Blind, who disseminated them to Ezra and Azriel of Gerona, and to
Nachmanides (see Menachem Recanati, Perush ha-Torah, Jerusalem, 1961, 73d; a similar tradition is cited in the
name of the sages of truth (hakhmei ha-emet) by Meir ibn Gabbai in Avodat ha-Qodesh (Jerusalem, 1992), 2, 13,
p.102 and from there it is cited by Elijah Delmedigo, Matsref la-Hokhmah, (Basel 1629), 15a. Finally another view
of the chain reports the following sequence: Elijah, Isaac ben Abraham of Narbonne, Jacob the Nazirite, Abraham
ben David, and Isaac the blind etc. [For this detective unraveling of the chain see E.R. Wolfson, Transmission in
Medieval Mysticism, p.218] According to Ezra of Gerona and Nahmanides the chain of transmission of kabbalah as
the original secret oral torah extends to before Moses to Avraham HaKadmon. Ezra of Gerona reporting the
tradition of Isaac the blind writes, Our teacher the pious one, blessed be his memory said, the essence of
worship of the enlightened and those who meditate on HIS NAME is cleave to Him (Deut. 13:5) and this is the great
principle in the Torah concerning prayer and blessings, to harmonize his thought and his emunah as if he were
cleaving above to unite the name in its letters and to comprise within it the ten sifirot like a flame that is bound to
the coal (Kitve Ramban, 2:522). Rabbi Jacob ben Sheshet also in the name of Rabbi Isaac the blind writes in his
Sefer ha-Emunah veha-Bittahon on Onkelos on Leviticus 13:18 This is comparable to the explanation, `He looked
into the Torah, He saw the essences (hawwayot) with Himself, for they were the essences from Wisdom and from
those essence, which were the essence sof Wisdom, He discerned that they would be manifest in the future. Thus I
heard this discourse in the name of the pious one, R. Isaac the son of R. Abraham, blessed be his memory (Kitve
Ramban 2:409). Jacob ben Sheshet writes further, Thus I have received from the mouth of (qibbalti mipi) the sage
R. Isaac the Frenchman, may his memory be for a blessing (Kitve Ramban 2:380). In the tradition of kabbalah the
words qibbalti (I received) and shamati (I heard) signify the reception of an exegetical tradition as authoritative
See: Shlomo Naeh, The structure and Division of Torat Kohanim (A): Scrolls (Hebrew), Tarbiz 66 (1997), 505-
Yerahmiel Brody, Sifrut ha-Geonim veha-Teqst ha-Talmudi, Mehqeri Talmud I, ed. Yaakov Sussman and David
Rosenthal (Jerusalem, 1990), 281, no.180.
they were not already intimately familiar with the exception of larger numbers of collections of written
down Aggadata. Aggadic/ midrashic texts seem to have achieved written form earlier in Babylonia than
did halkhic or legal ones.16 Even the Bavlis redactors, the stammaim operated in an oral environment
and Jacob Neusner and Peter Schaefer have taken very different approaches and positions on the
redaction process. S.D. Goitein further admits that there is a relative paucity of Tamudic MS. In the
Geniza collections (1962:15-53, 164) and the earliest COMPLETE edition of Bavli in the Munich ms. From
the 9th century. According to Gittin 60a devarim she-be-al peh you may not write and according to
Levine while the Rabbinic class in the Tannaitic, Amoraic, and Geonic periods (Geonic to a lesser extent)
were literate the wider Rabbinic society may not.

So when did written copies of Mishnah and Talmud start to become the norm that displaced the
hegemony of orality? While Sussman17 argues this transition took place between the 5th and 8th century
CE, other argue that it was with Rashis (1040-1105) commentary on the Babylonian Talmud began to be
used and the subsequent glossiata18 of the Tosaphot were written. Rashi and his students prepared an

See : Nahman Danzig, Introduction to Halakhot Pesuqot with a Supplement to Halakhot Pesuqot (Hebrew), NY,
1993, 3-8.
Sussman writes, During the Geonic period we witness a familiar and commonplace reality in which books of
Mishnah and Talmud exist. On the one hand for centuries people had been careful not to record the oral torah in
writing, even in difficult times when there was a real danger that the torah might be forgotten, nobody dared to
deviate from the accepted tradition according to which one does not write halkahot. Yet at a certain point in time
it was as if all this was ignored and the oral torah was transformed into a written torah. Students of the torah
accepted this new reality in whch there was no distinction between the written torah and that torah which is
supposed to be oral- both of them were recorded in writing and both were disseminated in written books. How
and when did this transformation come about? In other words when was the rabbinic Talmudic world transformed
from a world of oral culture to one of a written culture? (see Sussman, Jacob: The Oral Torah in the Literal Sense.
The Power of the Tail of a Yod, in Mehkerei Talmud 3 (2005), 322.; For Sussman thus the transition to written
textuality of the oral torah is a phenomena of weakness for the inherent quality of the oral torah is its transmission
being oral, and it was the decline of the generations that led to its being written down. Yuval argues that t the
transition of writing down the oral torah was due to the historical rise of Islam. Yuval writes, Islam presented the
Quran as the last and final book of revelation, superseding its two predecessors. The literary beauty of the
language of the Quran is treated as a theological advantage a proof that the book was written in divine
inspirationIn the final analysis the ancient tradition of orality and the opposition to textuality, which
characterized the beginning of Islam was supplanted by a more developed culture of writing. The Muslim culture
of the book presented a profound cultural challenge to the Jews, with which the classical culture of the midrash
was unable to deal. In face of a varied and sophisticated culture of writing rich in various genres and edited
according to subjects Jewish oral literature- that was edited, not according to subjects, but rather around sacred
texts- seemed old fashioned (p.253). Yuval continues, Under these circumstances in which the focus of Judaisms
religious struggles turned from Christianity to Islam, and which Rabbinic literature was struggling for its own status
against the Karaite challenge, there was no longer any ideological advantage to be gained in preserving the oral
torah as an oral text.. Under these circumstance (rise of Islam book culture) the obstacles to writing down oral
law were removed and an outburst of written creativity began (p.254).
Yuval writes, The Ashkenazic literature was fond of glosses that reflected the innovations of the teacher and
which were recorded by the students who heard his oral teachings- and in that manner survived. The greatest
halakhic scholar of the European middle ages, Rabbenu Tam, did not write even a single book.; all of our
information concerning his ruling is based upon later redactions of his oral instructions or upon sporadic response
he wrote to those who asked him questions. Rabbenu Tams grandfather, Rashi, the noted exegete of both the
Bible and Talmud, never wrote even a single halakhic monograph; his entire oevre is limited to commentary on
canonic texts (p.255).
authoritative text of the Talmud from which copies were made. However Rashis commentary the
quntres- along with the authoritative text of the B.T. were kept by a limited number of scholars, all of
them Rashis offspring so that when his grandson Rabbi Jacob b. Meir known as Rabbenu Tam writes,
( I have checked in Rashis own ms.) he emphasizes the rarity and uniqueness and
exceptional value of his written sources in a culture of pervasive orality. During the 12th and 13th
centuries a huge corpus of super commentaries on Rashi called tosaphot or additions sprung up.19

Early Tosaphists like Asher HaLevy from Spire, Jacob B. Isaac HaLevy, Meir b. Samuel from Ramerupt
(Aube), and the latters son Jacob B. Meir Rabbenu Tam wrote down their super commentaries. With
the addition of tosaphot to Rashis commentary the essentially oral culture of the Jews became more
based on writing although the passage from orality to written tradition happened slowly in the realm of
custom, and the school where the masters handed down halakhah to students. An exception to the
norm of orality is given by Rabbi Yosef b. Meir ha-Levy ibn Megas, a Spanish 12th century authority who
quotes the case of an autodidact, a man who has never read halakha with one master and does not
know the way of halakha nor its commentary, nor its reading, but he saw many of the responsa of the
Geonim and the books of laws. [
] "

This man had studied from books only and he became so expert in rabbinical matters that Joseph ibn
Megas allowed him to teach law. 20

This was the exceptional case and not the norm. In France and Germany the lucky few had recourse to
written texts. Teaching derived its authority from an elite who transmitted orally to their students.

The case of the Maimonidean controversy illustrates how the Rabbinic elite relied often totally on word
of mouth rather than consultation with texts. The Provencal scholar Asher b. Gershom defends
supporters of Maimonides by noting, there are-so he writes men- as goads and as nails fastened to
strengthen faith and Torah by writing and by word of mouth from one to another. [

His opponents however condemned Maimonides without reading his work and on the basis of their
hearing through the rabbinic grapevine false news.21

The Maimonidean controversy is also instructive because according to Hillel of Verona the reason why
24 cartloads of Talmudic tractates were burned in 1242 outside Notre Dame cathedral, was because the

See: E.E. Urbach, The Tosaphists, Their History, Writings and Methods (Jerusalem, 1980), 2 vols.
Joseph ibn Megas, Responsa (Thessaloniki, 1791), Warsaw, 1870), no. 114, quoted in Urbach Tosaphists, 2:738
Shatzmiller, Joseph, Les tossafistes et la premiere controverse maimonidienne: Le temoignage du rabbin Asher
ben Gershom, in Gilber Dahan, Gerard Nahon, and Elie Nicolas, eds. Rashi et la culture juive en France du Nord au
moyen age (Paris and Louvain, 1997), p.55-82, quotations p. 66-67; on the Maimonidean Controversy see: Touati,
Charles, Les deux conflicts autour de Maimonide et des etudes philosophiques, Juifs et Judaisme de Languedoc=
Cahiers de Fanjeaux 12 (1977): 173-84
anti-Maimonidists had done richilut to the Rambams works, essentially tattle tailing to the Franciscans
in 1240 that they should be burned. 22

While the real reason the 24 cartloads of Talmudic volumes may have been burnt at the instigation of
the Franciscans is that two years before in 1240 Rabbi Yehiel had hermeneutically mesmerized the
Christian interlocutor in a forced disputation,23 for which Rabbi Yehiel was forced to flee for his life to
Eretz Yisrael as so too Ramban after 1263 when he forcibly debated in Barcelona and set down the
Vikuah was forced to flee to Eretz Yisrael.24 Additionally the debate in Tortosa in 1414 with Rabbi Albo,
author of Sefer ha-Ikkarim ended in persecution and mass burnings of Jewish ms. With the scarcity of
written texts that arose from Talmud burnings, there is a confession that the academies declined
primarily the Parisian one which ceased to be what it had been for two generations, the major
Talmudic center in France. 25 The fact that we have relatively few Hebrew ms. From the 12th and 13th
centuries may be due in part to the persecutions that manifested themselves in the Church burning of
Rabbinic ms. If books were scarce one would assume there was greater reliance on oral transmission.
Simha Emanuel has found a huge number of lost books whose titles have been preserved and those of
whose titles have not survived, but this attests to the relative increase in the existence of written texts
at the time of the Tosafists.26

It is important to keep in mind as Michel Foucault27 has pointed out that the modern concept of
authorship is often foreign to antiquity and the middle ages. The concept of authorship does not
develop to the point of conceding to the author of a work complete control of its contents. As Roger
Chartier notes, copyright is a problematic concept in the 18th century precisely because authorship was
still viewed as a relatively inchoate communal process rather than an individual creative one.28 Anthony
Graftons _The footnote : a curious history_ puts forth a case that it is not with the ascendency of
modern Enlightenment that attribution through footnotes gave greater acceptance to the idea of
intellectual property as it is known post the 18th century. Mary Carruthers noted, whilet he importance
of modern creativity was not altogether negated in medieval times, the emphasis was on communal
traditions being transmitted orally and the arts of memory rather than individual genius of creativity.29

See: Levy, David B, Censorship of Rambams Moreh ha-Nevukhim and Sefer Madah, in AJL Proceedings 35
(2000), 172-177
See Gilbert Dahan and Elie Nicolas, eds. , Le burelement du Talmud a Paris, 1242-1244 (Paris: Editions du Cerf,
See Maccoby, Haim, Judaism on Trial:Jewish-christian Disputations in the Middle Ages, London, 1982, p.19-38,
See:Chazan, Robert, Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages, (West Orange, N.J.), 1980) p.221-38.
Emanuel, Simha, The Lost Halakhic Books of the Tosaphists, PhD diss. (Jerusalem, Hebrew Univ., 1993) under
supervision of Prof. I.T. Shma.
le Bulletin de la Socit franaise de philosophie de juillet-septembre, Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?, 1969; en 1983
aussi dans Littoral. La version du texte connu dans le monde anglo-saxon: "What is an author?"
Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the 14th century and 18th
centuries (Stanford, 1994), The Figure of the Author, p. 24-59.
Mary J. Crruthers, Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, Cambridge studies in medieval
literature 10 (Cambridge 1990), 10-11. Historians of literacy have been concerned with normative channels of
communication in societies. An oral society is thus one in which communication occurs in forms other than written
documents, and in which law and the government are conducted on the basis of orally preserved custom set to
Thus one reason he rabbinic sages insist upon preserving and transmitting their words in an oral manner
is because their teachings become collective, and it is not crystallized around a single subject but always
around a text- the Midrash around the Bible, the Talmud around the Mishnah. The ideal and emphasis
was not on egotistical authorship but collective process via verbal repetition. In the Tannaitic period
when hundreds of sages were forbidden to set things down in writing and study was performed in a
verbal manner by debate and repetition of canonical texts, matters were such that one was even
allowed to sell a sifrei Torah in order to learn Torah.30 That is to say they assumed literacy of the
written sanctified torah and permitted sale of that written scroll in order to study the oral Torah. This
was in contrast to the Sadducees who had a highly developed culture of writing, said by Josephus to
even know the written texts of Greek literature, and who accepted only the written torah.

Idioms that emphasize the preference for oral transmission include:

our master comments for us

says Rabbi

Rabbi said

The traditional mode of teaching was oral transmission as noted in a tradition concerning Isaac ben
Samuel of Dampierre handed down from his masters by R. Menachem b. Aaron B. Zerah:

And Rabbenu Isaac, the son of Rabbenu Tams sister the well-known tosaphist who learned and
taught in the yeshiva that my French masters attested in the name of their master that it was well
known and famous that 60 masters learned before him (Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre) each of them
understood the halakhah he said and also each of them learned one treatise of the Talmud that his
fellow had not learned. They revised orally and our master Issac did not say one halkhah that was not
in their mouth together. So the whole Talmud was put before their eyes during the lesson up to the
solution of all the doubts of the Talmud, the whole halakhah and ruling, tanna or amora where
contradiction appeared in another place. He sat down and corrected as is clear for whoever saw their
tosafot, their questions and answers and commentaries and hassagot that they obtained from their
grandfather Rabbenu Shlomo i.e. Rashi. 31

memory. Because oral cultures must obviously depend on memory, and hence value memory highly, such
valorization has come to be seen as a hallmark of orality, as opposed to literacy. This had led to the further
assumption that literacy and memory are per se incompatible, and that a rise of literacy will therefore bring with it
a consequent devaluing and disuse of memory. It is this assumption that my study calls particularly in doubt.
Megillah 27a

see: Salomon
Luria, Sefer Yam shel Shelomo, vol. 2: Hullin (Stettin, 1861, repr. Jerusalem 1987), second intro. On Isaac b. Samuel
of Dampierre see Menachem B. Aaron b. Zerah, Seda la-darekh in Adolf Neubauer, Mediaeval Jewish Chronicles
and Chronological Notes, Reimpr. Amsterdam 1970, vol.2, p.243
Juda b. Yom tov from the 12th century Paris explained the oral pedagogy of the tanna- one author of the
mishna: In such a way the tanna is doing after he has commented upon the halkhot of the treatise: he
reviews them again briefly in order that they should be filed on your hand and kept upon the mouth and
in the heart.32


Clearly this note is alluding to the commandment bind them as a seal upon your hand and heart but
the order is that of hand-mouth-and heart. This is a euphemism for the process of memorization and
internalization of teachings. Mouth or orality is the center of the chain from the hand (writing) to the
heart (memory). The question arises what if any role musical sing-song recantation played in this
memory process? The tosaphot of Megilla 32a comments on quoting the wording of R. Shefaita on
behalf of R. yohanan about a man who happened to teach Mishnah without music: for they were in the
habit of repeating the mishnaiot with music because people learned them by heart and in such a way
they remembered more. [

According to Isidore Epstein in the introduction to the Soncino Talmud helping oneself with music was
the norm in Talmudic times, that served a memory aid to learning. In the 12th century a copyist found it
necessary to emphasize that oral provenance of a written lesson by noting Henceforth the Base of R.
Shemaya- may honor be his rest- as he heard it from Rabbi Solomon :

Thus composition of tosafot was the result of discussions held in the rabbinical schools and the
recording took place before the master and with his hashgamah. Only what the master agreed to
was allowed in script. Thus oral elaboration may be deliberately omitted by the student who had
received it orally, And the commentary of our master Samuel b. Meir did not agree at all to R. Isaac b.
Samuel de Dampierre therefore I did not write it down:

As is the practice in many yeshivot today one exceptional student would be designated to transcribe the
contents of a shiur. The students would write up the shiur. In the medieval Yeshivot there were two beit
midrashim- one of biblical commentary and one of Talmudic tosaphot.33

In conformity with the Brisker tradition we see that the practice of writing little goes back to the Middle
Ages for even the great tosaphist R. Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre wrote little, or perhaps it has simply

Tos. Yeb. 84a
Huqqe ha-torah; see Assaf, Simha, Sources for the History of education in Israel from the beginning of the
Middle Ages to the Haskalah period (Tel Vavi, 1954) p.16 and Ephraim Kanarfogel, Jewish Education and Society in
the High Middle Ages, (Detroit: Wayne State Press, 1992, p.115nn.200-201; The phrase for the two types of
classrooms is:
not survived. He certainly adopted the widespread method of reportatio. 34 A large number of legal
decisions were also enacted outside the context of the Yeshivot. Moise b. Hasdai called Tachau
(Bohemia, 13th C. ) sent one responsum to the community of Magdeborg on the problem of Herem ha-
Yishuv, a disposition that would allow residency rights to be refused to newcomers, explaining that he
has a letter by Eliezer of Orleans containing testimony collected from an oral answer of Rabbenu Tams
when he was leaving the Troyes synagogue.35

Yet by the 13th century when R. Meir of Rothenburg was studying in France the committing into writing
became more widespread whereby students had to review and correct their notes on Friday, And R.
Abraham said to us that the students wrote for themselves the things that were necessary for their
learning since like the mouth their writing is their learning: "

The injunction to lend written copies of tosophot is seen in Sefer Hasidim. This Hasdei Ashkenaz text
from Germany also attests to the importance of consulting written copies of tosophot. We read:

If one man has students and takes care of them and there is another good rabbi in the town who has
good student like his own and he takes care of them as he does with his own; if he has a tosaphot and
the other rabbi has not, he may not say, `I will not lend to him my tosaphot so that his students will
come to me in order to study Therefore keep the rule `Be the honor of your colleague beloved as your
own. (Avot 4:13) and it is written : That shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18).36

By the period of the Renaissance with the interest in Latin and Greek classics in the original languages of
these texts, libraries as we know them today expanded as David Ruderman, Robert Bonfil, Author Lesley
and others have explored in the Italian Renaissance. Shifra Baruchson book titled, _Sifra: Tarbut shel
Yehudim Italia biTekufah HaRenaissance_ and many other studies exist on Jewish Renaissance libraries
partly because the evidence is more plentiful as the example of Saftei Bass catalog is well known. The
late medieval ages and beginning of modernity is characterized by the printing press and the effect of
this technology of Jewish transmission of tradition (see: Printing the Talmud : from Bomberg to
Schottenstein / edited by Sharon Liberman Mintz and Gabriel M. Goldstein.] Marvin J. Hellers _Studies
in the Making of the Early Hebrew book_ also sheds light on learning and curriculum in this Renaissance

Cited by Nahon, Gerard, Orality and Literacy: The French Tosaphists, in Studies in Medieval Jewish Intellectual
and Social History; festschrift in honor of Robert Chazan, Leiden: Brill, 2012, 155; According to Soloveithchik
Hebrew manuscripts from the Tosaphists schools bear the hallmark of reportatio: At the end of a rabbinical
commentary we find two letters: "which means from the mouth of my master.
Isaac b. Moses of Vienna, Sefer Or zaruaa (Zhitomir, 1862), 115, p.44.

see Wisteinetzky, Sefer Hasidim, 1478, 358; also see Collete Sirat, La
conception du Livre chez les pietisies ashkenazes (Geneva, Droz,1996).
In short the construction of collections of rabbinic texts in the medieval ages is a complex detective work
and well worth the effort as Rabbi Shimon Ben Zemach Duran author of Zohar HaRakia notes when he
writes, when the wise man lies down with his fathers, he leaves behind him a treasured and organized
blessing: books that enlighten like the brilliance of the firmament (Daniel 12:3) and that extend peace
like a river (Isa. 66:12). Might we all turn our lives into a song as Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy urges in his
comment, My pen is like my harp and my library like gardens that refresh the mind and delight the
soul. Reconstructing what these early collections of texts were, how they were arranged and how they
came to be is the job of the librarian and historian.

Part I. Jewish Archival Repositories and Scrolls in Antiquity

Biblical Books and Archival records and books in Antiquity The state of knowledge on the topic of the
history of Jewish libraries is complex. Nahum Sarna has written on collections of text in the First and
Second Temple periods in _Studies in Biblical Interpretation_ . DBLs popular article titled Non-Biblical
Texts and records from Antiquity for the TC. Newsletter at:,%20Issue%201.pdf

The well-known gemara from BB that Hezekiah and his scribes wrote down Isaiah, Mishlei, Shir
HaShirim, and Koheleth and Esther. Discussion is had in the gemarah if Moshe wrote down the humash
how did he write post humus about his death two opinions being he prophesized it as King David
prophesied on the rivers of Babylon or it was written by Joshua. The book of Yeshua also recounts
Yehoshuas death and thus that was written by Yehoshua via ruach hakodesh. Ibn Ezra interpretation of
these cases is often claimed (falsely according to Rabbi Strickman) to suggest a later redaction process
that ended up in what Solomon Schechter calls the higher anti-semitism i.e. the Documentary

Which is a smaller section from a larger paper given at the AJL in La Jolla on the topic of Classification
Systems from Antiquity to the Renaissance, which contained an about 26 page historical overview of
libraries from antiquity to the Renaissance as well as treated modern library classification systems such
as those invented by Gershom Scholem for the JNUL, the Library of Congress System, the system
invented by Freidus for the Dorot Collection at the NYPL, etc. The full length of that paper is at the
Elazar website in Jerusalem at:

The excellent detective work of Richard Steiner titled Bishlams Archival Search Report in Nehemiahs
Archive: Multiple Introductions and Reverse Chronological Order as Clues to the Origin of the Aramaic
Letters in Ezra 4-6 unravels not only the context of libraries and archives at the time of Ezra and
Nehemiah but also the plot of Megillat Esther based on letters that Ahusveros recovered from an
Archive remembering the good deeds of Mordechai. Steiners thesis is that the Aramaic letters of Ezra 4-
6 were part of an archival search report that originated in Bishlams archive and ended up in Nehemiahs
archive. The latter archive would also have contained Nehemiahs official day book, which proably
formed the basis of his memoirs. Thus the tale of 2 archives goes a long way toward explaining the origin
of the book of Ezral and Nehemiah.37

This longer paper included sections on Other Ancient Libraries in Antiquity such as those in Syria, Iraq,
Ninevah, and of course the Glory of the Hellenic World the Alexandrian Library a popular article titled,
Libraries and Archives in the Ancient Middle East currently also on the TC. Newsletter at:,%20Issue%202.pdf

DBL did his graduate work under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Baumgarten, a world renown scholar on the
halakhic aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a popular article reconstructing the scriptorium (the
Christian term applied by Roland de Vaux) to the library or scrollery of the DSS sect is again on the TC.
Newsletter titled The DSS an Essene Second Temple Library in Qumran site at:,%20Issue%201.pdf

While a longer paper on this subject is at the AJL Cleveland Proceedings at:
edings2008/levy08.pdf with slides at:

Part II. Tannaitic, Amoraic, Geonic, and Rishonim Periods

A. Pervasive Orality of oral Torah38

See: Steiner, Richard, Bishlams Archival Search Report in Nehemiahs Archive: Multiple Introductions and
Reverse Chronological Order as Clues to the Origin of the Aramaic Letters in Ezra 4-6, in JBL, 125, no.4 (Winter
2006), p. 641-685; The clues suggest that the source of the four Aramaic letters in Ezra 4-6 was a report sent to
Artaxerxes I by Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel giving the results of an archival search. Earlier in his reign, this
king had decree that the work on Jerusalems walls be suspended until I give the order (4:21). Before issuing
that decree he had ordered a search of the achives (4:19) and it appears that another search was necessary before
a new decree could be issued allowing the work to resume under Nehemiahs leadership. In carring out the new
search Bishlam and his fellow archivists first looked for and found Artaxexes correspondence that had led to the
suspension of the reconstruction project. Ater those letters were copied onto a scroll, the earlier less relevant
Darius correspondence turned up and was copied onto the same scroll, in reverse chronological order. The first of
these extracts from the archival register-rolls already had a heading, but he archivists felt the need to add their
own heading to it. Thus the first extract ound up with two headings in the report sent to the King. The biblical
authors cryptic description of the archivists letter (nishton) as containing a document (katav) written in Aramaic
and translated into Aramaic turns out to be perfectly accurate one of the four letters in the report was written
(composed) in Aramaic from the outset, while at least tow of the others were translated into Araamic from Old
Persian. The biblical author decided to reaint the reverse chronological order of the report even though it clashed
with his chronolocially ordered narrative. He attempted to resolve the clash by making the Artaxerxes
correspondence part of a flash forward and inserting a resumptive repletion (plus narrative) before the Darius
correspondence. However his highly ingenious solution was proved to be too subtle for readers from Josephus to
the present day. Although Nehemiahs role in the commissioning of the archival search is unclear, it is likely that
the report cleared the way for his mission. It seems that he brought a copy of the report with him to Jersualem for
2 Macc 2:13 tells us that he generaly understood to be a reference to two royal letters. Dariuss letter to Tattenai
and Artaxerxess letter to Ezra, both of which deal with votive offerings (Ezra 6:9 and 7:22). Avigads discovering a
bullae from the archive of another governor of Judah makes it quite likely that Nehemiah too had an archive
Sources for our knowledge of Medieval textual collections, issues related to booklore, learning,
education, and rabbinic study in the Middle Ages can come from the Cairo Geniza and early Geonic
Responsa as well as Rabbinic texts. This paper will explore the pervasive hegemony of oral transmission
based on two sugyot in Gittin 60b and Temurah 14b. what the medieval curriculum was?, how it was
implemented?, what was its purpose? How it evolved over the course of history of Jewish education and
learning, and the tension between written vs. oral transmission whereby the hegemony of pervasive
orality reigned for much of the tannaitic, amoraic, geonic periods to being more written down during
the period of the Tosofot. Oral transmission served to relay a highly developed body of Jewish law,
which became part and substance of its organized community life and educational curriculum. In the
course of this evaluation we will show how the culture of pervasive orality during the period of the
Tosaphot particularly became more written. While oral teaching remained the rule in the schools of
Rashi, Rabbenu Tam, and Rabbi Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre the writing down of text became relatively
more acceptable. By the time of the Renaissance libraries as we know them today, in conjunction with
the revolution of the invention of the printing press, came into being. Scholars have wondered why
relatively few books have come down to us from European scholars of the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries.39
The nature of Rabbinic culture is that from its inception this scholarship relied on oral transmission. The
writing down of texts was often not the result of a great upsurge in culture activity but rather the
aftermath of great tragedy as Irving Agus notes:

The mishne, the Tosefta, and the tannaitic Midrashim came after the great slaughter of rabbinic
scholars during the Bar Kochba revolt and the Hadrianic persecutions that followed it. The Palestinian
Talmud was composed because of the persecutions of schools and scholars in Palestine, following the
Christianization of the Roman empire. The Babylonian Talmud was put to writing because the Yeshivoth
were closed and the scholars martyred in the great religious upheavals during the rule of Khavad I. The
literary compositions of the schools of Rashi and the Tosaphists were similarly due to the destruction of
the great centers of Talmudic learning in the crusade of 1096. The motivation for botht he act of
composing books and their preservation was always the same: to save from oblivion any remnant of
Rabbinic learning that had been studied orally by hundreds of teachers and students immediately before
catastrophe stuck. With the destruction of Mayence, Worms, and Cologne in 1096, a radical change took
place in the method of studying the Talmud. Rather than relying completely on the ear, learners would

The tension between die heilige spache (oral spoken language) and die Heilige schriften (the holy scripture) In a
different context is found in Steinschneiders Allgemeine Einleitung in die Juedische Literature des Mittelalters,
when he writes, Spache. Wir haben bishcer den Weg vom Abstracten zum Concreten genommen, in der
Kulturfrage die Antwort erhalten, ob und inwieweit die Jude nein Kulturvolk gennant zu warden verdienten. Wir
haben die Kultur als Substanz des Geistes beeichnet; zu ihr verbaelt sich die Spache wie die Form, ohne welche der
Geist ein Ding an sich bliebe. Die Spache ist die Manifestation des allgemeiner Geistes, daher alte und orientalische
Sprachen duer Denken und Sprechen dasselbe Wort haben: Logos, ist der spechende oder denkende
Mensch (verschieden von fuer Amar Elokut). Sie ist aber nich bloss Manifestation des Giestes. Die Alten
sprechen, trotz der Erzaehlung vom Paradiese und dem babylonischen Turme, von Begruendern der Sprache
und einer Uebereinkunft Wenn es sich um die Sprache eines bestimmten Voksstammes handelt, wie
Deutsch, Griechisch, Latein, Arabische, so ist die Aufgabe eine einfache; bei den Juden wird sie allmaehlich immer
Cf. H. Vogelstein and P. Riger, Geschichte der Juden in Rom (Berlin, 1895), p.179; Weiss, op. cit. vol. iv, p.306; I
Halevy Dorot HaRishonim (Berlin, 1920), vol.iii, p.149.
henceforth derive a great deal of information through the eye- from written commentaries, collections of
response, and elbatore customs. Formerly in the precrusade period a student had before him only the
bare text of the Talmud and studied it laboriously , prhase by phrase with the help of an oral explanation
he heard from the mouth of his teacher. A student who wanted to master the 62 tractates of the
Talmud had to study every page from the mouth of his teacher An outstanding scholar especially could
not rely on a manuscript, but had to commit to memory the exact wording of each phrase. The
expression haka garsinan meaning Thus we repeated by rote was probably meant literally in the pre-
crusade period. 40

The importance of memory cannot be under emphasized.41 A young student learnt his first tractates
from a local teacher. Then continued his advanced study in a renowned Yeshiva under a more advanced
teacher. But every tractate he had to learn from the mouth of some teacher. In his commentary on the
Talmud Rashi informs us that he received information from the mouth of his teacher.42 Whatever the
student did learn, he had to repeat many times, and to review systematically at frequent intervals in
later years, in order not to forget it.43 Thus everything a scholar knew he derived orally from his
teachers. The immense body of oral learning possessed by the Ashkenazic Jews of the pre-crusade
period, most of which was eventually written down by the schools of Rashi and the Tosophists, was the
result of a continuous process of oral transmission, from generation to generation. That dedication to
rabbinic memory and commitment to not letting it be forgotten and lost during times of crisis44 is the
impetus for eventually writing the text down. Thus paradoxically in order to save the law (the
prohibition of writing down halakhot of oral torah) the great Rabbinic composers had to break the law.
Transmission of teachings thus swings across history between memorization of the past and during
moments of crisis the setting down in writing of the memorization by re-presenting parole as grapheme.
This monograph explores the process by which oral tradition is eventually written down during
transmission, how rabbinic texts evolved over time, and what the educational curriculum was shaped
and guided by the ethos of Torah MiSinai.

What is Torah MiSinai. It includes oral and written torah coterminously. It is said that the revelation
from Sinai was given in thunder and lightning and that the voice of the L-rd carves out flames of fire:
It is the Talmudic machloket liShem Shamayim, in the talmudim and subsequent
generations to the present day that are the Milhamot Hashem, that the bucherim fight with the swords
of pilpul so that the divine Word of Hashem unfolds through human speech of teachings transmitted

Agus, Irving, The oral traditions of pre-Crusade Ashkeanzic Jewry, in Studies and essays in honor of Abraham A.
Neuman, Leiden: Brill, , p.9
Cf. Rashis explanation of the Talmudic statement (A.Z.19a):
Cf. Gittin 82a, Pesahim 111b;Erekin 12b; B.K. 9a, etc.
Avodah Zarah 19a, s.v.
E.R. Wolfson in Transmission of Medieval Mysticism notes that fear of forgetfulness of secret doctrines in
times of crisis is the reason given for a Mikubal who authored MS. NY JTSA Mic. 1887, fol 76a to write, I have
written this book in which there are kabbalistic explanations so that I will remember what I have received from my
great and elderly sages, men of understanding, blessed be their memory and that it will not be lost. And I adjure all
my descendants to guard this shem (name) so as not to show it to empty people who would destroy their souls by
thinking thoughts they did not understand.
orally. The midrashic commentaries on the word BIHEBARAM ( )all emphasize that even
HaShem created the world(S) with the speech of HIS mouth. The letter hey is an aspirant emphasizing
breath. It is said:

BeHebaram. Rabbi Abbahu interpreted in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: With the letter hey He created
them. Just as this hey is the only non-lingual letter (being merely aspirated) so did the Holy One blessed
be He create His World merely with the word of the tetragramaton (Ps. 33:6)- and immediately the
heavens were made (Ps. 33:6).45 The midrash notes further that all the hosts of angels were created by
the breath of G-ds mouth. While Rabbi Eleazers position is that G-d created the world with the letter
yod and hey Rabbi Abbahu asserts that Hashem created just with the letter hey while Sefer HaZohar
opens with the midrash that Hashem came to every letter but only found the beit worthy of beginning
the torah because it looks like a house whereby all of us should build houses in which the shekhinah can
dwell and we should not push beyond the spine of the bet what was before G-ds original unique
Creation. Every Rabbinic commentary is a reenactment of Sinai.- the paradigmatic time of instruction.
The divine word is fire reports Jeremiah like a hammer splitting rock, and his rabbinical heirs
understood this as the Sinaitic sparks that are released from scripture through rabbinic interpretation.46
Thus every sage is like Ben Azzai who was once exegetically interpreting scripture by linking
[enchainments dramatize the unity of Scripture and reveal it as a rabbinic work] words of the torah,
prophets, and Writings to each other so that a flaming fire encircled him. Kal wa-homer when Ben
Uzziel was esoterically explaining maaseh merkvah, birds flying overhead caught on fire, all these
luminous metaphors echoing from the original Sinaitic revelation when Har Sinai was enflamed as
scripture states.47

B. Tannaitic Mishnah and Tosefta TEXTS

Undoubtedly in early rabbinic works reference is made to so many lost texts.48 The rabbis were strict
in applying the rule of that which is written is forbidden to be recited orally49 so well as its converse.50

- , ; ,
See Sanhedrin 34a on Jeremiah 23:29 and the reading of Rabbi Samuel in the Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. mah.
Song Rabbah 1:10; According to traditions in b. Hag. 14a and y. Hag 2:1 a fire descended as R. Eleazar ben Arak
dealt with mystical matters. However also in the last sources is an account of fire which descended while Rabbi
Eleazer and Rabbi Joshua were engaged in studying Scripture and connecting verses one to the other. This
tradition is stylistically similar to that in Song Rabba.
Jersualem Megillah 5:1, Jerusalem Berakhot9, Jerusalem Taanit 6:4; Bablonian Yoma 38a, Babylonian Yevamot
49b, Babylonian Shabbat 6a.; [ ] .

. "
. ...
. . "
[ ' ] .
] [
. .
. " . .
. . . . "
Rabinowitz writes, It is nevertheless conceivable that lists of TARYAG might indeed have existed in the
Tannaitic period and especially in the Talmudic (amoraic) period. 51 While modern scholarship
considers the Halachot Gedolot Geonic list of TARYAG being based upon a well-established tradition of
TARYAG enumerations so that that certainly TARYAG enumerative lists existed during the late Amoraic
and Saboraic periods or before that.

In the Tannaitic period material which makes up the early rabbinic compilation known as the Tosefta in
essence comes down to us in two versions, one redacted from the middle of the fourth century, and one
in hundreds of independently transmitted parallels in both Talmuds. The Tosefta is a parallel and
complementary text52 to the Mishnah, the earliest collection of rabbinic law available.53 The latter dates
to the first quarter of the 3rd century; the former somewhat later. 54 The Mishnah was committed to
writing in its form in the 3rd century at the earliest, while prior to this momentous event the method of
instruction in the oral law was the Midrash Halachah according to the Sherira Gaon.55

Rabinowitz notes the emphasis on memorization of tannaitic texts and prohibition to write down oral
torah when he comments, Already during the time of the Tannaim, the Torah itself had ceased to be
used as the textbook for legal discussion. No Tanna looked for a solution to any legal problem in the
torah itself. He searched his knowledge of the oral law, as stored either in his memory or recorded in the
Megilloth Setarim, for material relevant to the problem at hand.56 Rabinowitz notes that the
replacements of the Mosaic law as the immediate source of decision took place certainly by the 2nd


Shem Rabb, sec. Babylonia Gittin 60b, Rashi ad loc. See also Reuven Margolies, Yesod Hamishnah Vearichatah,
4rth ed. (Jerusalem 1955), p. 6 n. 4
This was the reason that permission was found only with difficulty to commit the Oral law to writing in the form
of the Mishnah. See I Ginzberg Mishpatim Leisrael: Harry Fischel Isntitute for Research (Jerusalem, 1956) p. 49.
Rabinowitz, Hersh, TARYAG, Jason Aronson, p. 19
Yuval in an unorthodox manner argues that while the Tosefta might have been the complementary text to the
Mishnah the NT. Was the competing text to the Mishnah: Mit der Entstehung des Christentums entwickelte sich
das Verlangen ein Unterscheidungsmerkmal zwischen Christen und Juden zu schaffen. Das Christentum definierte
sich anhand eines alternativen Texts, des Neuren Testaments und die Juden reagierten indem sie ihren eigenen
alternativen Text schufen- die Mishnah und danach die zwei Talmuds. Die zei Religionen distanzierten sich auf
ahnliche Weise von ihrem einste kanonischen Text- dem Tanakh oder dem Alten Testament- und establierten an
seiner Stelle einen neuen, identitaetsstiftenden Text. (Yuval, the orality of Jewish oral law: from pedagogy to
ideology, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the course of History, Muenchen: Verlag, 2011, Abstract, p. 259).
The custom of reading the Decalogue on Shavuot is at variance with the Mishnah (Megillah 3:5) and is
dependent for its validity on the Tosefta (Megillah 3:3 CF also tractate Soferim ,ch. 17, Ha.6)
See Yaakov Elman, Authority and Tradition: Toseftan Baraitot in Talmudic Babylonia (NY, 1994), and idem
orality in Talmudic Babylonia, Oral Tradition 14, and Yerushalmi Pesahim, Tosefta Pisha and the Problem of
Orality in Harry Fox, ed. Toseftan Relationships (Hoboken, NJ, 1999).
Sherira Gaon in his famous letter states that in the earlier period of the 2nd Temple all the teachings of the
Halachot were given in the manner in which they are found in our Sifra and Sifre. That is in the Midrash form. See
also Lauterbach, JQR, (April 1915), p. 507 and n. 5.
Rabinowitz, Hirsch, TARYAG: A Study of the Tradition that the written Torah Contains 613 Mitzvot, Jason
Aronson, Northvale, NJ, p. 78.
Since the organic relationship between the written and the oral laws emerges clearly from the study of
the TARYAG tradition let us focus on how the rabbis from Tannaitic times to the Ahronim times
organized the 613 mitzvot. It is true that the Torah contains many more than 613 laws, if one considers
those laws derived by means of the hermeneutic rules applied by the rabbis when studying the Torah.
In fact the 614th mitzvah is the observance of Chanukah, although Emil Fackenheim has popularized this
614th mitzvath as that of not giving the Nazis any post-humus victories.57

Gutman argues in favor of the existence of a list of TARYAG in the tannaitic period when he writes, The
problem acquires a different perspective if we assume that not the number of TARYAG is the basis of
our enquiry but a book or a tract. That some ancient well known tract containing the 613 mitzvot of the
Torah existed.58 Such a tract would be a bridge between mikra and Mishnah. Guttman holds that such
a compendium was used to list the mitzvoth for children between delving into the Mishnah after
learning mikra. Gutman argues that the Mishnah assumes the learner to have familiarized himself with
the basic mitzvoth. A boy entering a Mishnah school was not unaware of the elementary base upon
which the Mishnah is founded. It is impossible some argue to understand the Mishnah text without the
accompanying Midrash Halachah at the hands of a competent instructor. The Talmud provides evidence
of how the study of Mishnah was pursued and it was not treated as a textbook in isolation from rabbinic
enumeration of the mitzvoth.59

The tradition of the enumeration of the TARYAG mitzvoth dates to before the geonic times. The
development of the enumeration of the 613 mitzvot spans from the Amoraic, Saboraic, Geonic,
Rishonim, and Ahronim periods. Three main divisions of law around which the 513 mitzvot classify are
(1) Deoraitha- laws from the Pentateuch, (2) Divrei Soferim, laws deduced by means of the 13
hermeneutical rules of Rabbi Ishmael, and (3) Derabbanan, laws of rabbinic origin. In Makkot 23 b Rabbi
Simlai, a 3rd century Amora, explained (Darash) 613 precepts were revealed unto Moses at Sinai, 365
prohibitive precepts, like the number of days of the solar year (CF. Tanchuma, ed. Buber, sec. Thetze,
para. 2), and 248 positive precepts corresponding to the number of limbs in the human body.60
Throughout the Talmudim61 and midrashim62 the number 613 is taken in its mathematical sense. The
fact of the appearance of the TARYAG tradition in early sources may point to the fact that the early

See Fackenheim, Emil, To mend the world : foundations of future Jewish thought, Schoken books: NY, 1982.
Bechinat HaMitzvot (Breslau, 1928),pp. 43 et seq.
CF Rash, NIddah 7b (bottom of the page).
Schechter in quoting the dictum of R. Simlai (Some Aspects of Rabbinic theology, p. 138 et seq) is included to
view R. Simlai making a poetic statement and teaching a public moral lesson to the public without troubling
himself with adding up the numbers. This is also the opinion of Bacher (Terminology, Sect 1 Tannaim, p.80). It is
also the opinion of Moshe bloch (Revue dEtudes Juives, 1 , p.208). On the other hand Halper correctly observes if
R. Simlai were indeed the author fo the TARYAG tradition at least some of the numerous references to TARYAG
should be introduced by the usual kedeamar as is customary throughout the Talmudim when an original
statement is being cited.
Shabbat 87a, Yevamot 47b, Nedarim 25a, Sheuvot 29a
Midrash Mshlei 31, Midrash Tehillim 17, Numbers Rabbah sec. 13 and 18, Exouds Rabbah 32, Shir Rabbah sec 1,
Tanchuma Deut. Sec Shefetim, Thetze Pirkei DR. Eliezer ch. 41, etc.
Tannaitic sages did enumerate the precepts. A passage in the Pesikhta63 would seem to establish the
fact that Talmudic teachers did enumerate the mitzvoth. The rabbis knew the number of mitzvoth
contained in the individual sections of the torah.64 Hersh Rabinowitz therefore concludes, It cannot be
far off the truth therefore for suggest that a complete list of the TARYAG was at their command (in the
Tannaitic period).65 Rabinowtiz concedes that much written evidence was lost from the tannaitc period
by the fact that the Talmudic teachers had to admit that even in counting the letters of the torah we
are no longer expert.66 There is Tannaitic evidence for the classification of mitzot in gernal terms and
on varying bases.67 Midrashim abound with statements like this is a positive mitzvah and this is a
negative mitzvah. 68 The Mishnah also groups series of related mitzoth together and numbers them.69
Midrash BaMidbar Rabbah (ch. 18) points out that 620 letters in the Decalogue refer to TaRYaG
mitzvoth, the remaining seven ascribed to the 7 Noachide laws. Lists of the mitzvoth circulated in the
Amoraic period known as Azharot meaning warnings [of negative commandments] poems read on
Shavuot enumerating the commandments, which Elbogen (Encyclopedia Eshkol) suggests that the term
was used for a type of Piyyut (poem prayer) because the numerical equivalent of Azharat is TaRYaG
[Alef=1, Zayyin=7, Heh=5, Resh=200] . However the earliest well known list of the 613 commandments
was made in the Geonic era known as the Halakhot Gedolot. Other lists in the Geonic period included
the Sheiltot by R. Acha of Shabcha (680-752) , Chefez B. Tazliach, Shmuel b. Chofni. The Helakhot
Gedolot included Rabbinic laws (derabbanan) among the 613 commandments. Zunz (Literatur
Geschichte der Synagogalen Poesie (Berlin 1865, 4, 21) notes that before Saadya the Azharat Reshit is
found in Pumpedita, and older than Azhara Atta Hinchalta of Sura placing them in the period of the


The rabbis comment on the verse from Deut. 9:10, And on them (the 2 tablets) was written according
to all the words God spoke with you in the Mount as follows: It goes to teach that G-d showed Moses in
advance all the subtle details of the biblical law and its scribal interpretation.70 On the same pusek
Midrash Kohelet comments, The words, the rabbis state Holy Writ, Mishnah, Toseftot, Haggadot, and

Three sections Moses wrote in the torah, each of which contains 60 mitzvot they are the sections Pesachim,
Nezikin, and Kedoshim; Rabbi Levy in the name of R. Shilla said each contain 70 mitzvoth. Said R. Tanchuma, they
do not disagree the one who considers he section on Pesahim to contain 70 mitzvoth includes the section on
Tehillim, the one who considers Nezikin to contain 70 includes the section on Shemittah, and the one who
considers Kedoshim to contain 70 includes the section on Ervah (which immediately succeed the respective
sections mentioned).
See mishnaht R. Eliezer sect. 15 where 10 positive precepts and ten prohibitions are recorded in connection with
the administration of justice.
Rabinowitz, Hersh, TARYAG, Jason Aronson, NJ, 1996, p.15; Rabbinowitz accounts for the lack of a written list of
TARYAG from the Tannaitic period due the reluctance to commit oral law to writing. (Kiddushin 30a).
Kiddushin 30a; see Margolith, Hamikra Vehamassoret.; Rabinowitz writes, that it is not therefore surprising if
in the course of time and oral list of the TARYAG failed and the mitzvoth were committed to writing (15.).
Sifra. Parsh. Chatt. Paragraph 2; Mechilt. DeMilliluim para 23; Sifre Numbers Pisk 111; Sifre Pesik 44
Sifrei Deut. Pisk. 154, para 3; ibid, Pisk 157, para 4; ibid Pisk 203, para 5, ibid Pisk 225, para 1 Pisk. 227, para 5
ibid Pisk 228, para 1, etc.
Sanhr. 7:4
Megillah 196
all that a conscientious student may develop from them in the future.71 Jerusalem Talmud Tractate
Shekalim and Shir hashirim Rabbah comment, Between the separate commandments of the Decalogue
were noted down all the precepts of the Torah in all their particulars.72 Philo early on classified and
treated the mitzvoth under the categories of the Decalogue. Later Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah notes
again, The tablets contain TARYAG mitzvoth represented by the letters I am to unto Thy neighbor
neither less nor more.73 The equation of TARYAG with the Decalogue gave rise to the literature of the
Azharot74, or halakhic piyyutim75, types of poems76 that repopulate the TARYAG, often read on Shavuot.
Several types of piyyutim although have no connection with the TARYAG Azharot, are also called
Azharot.77 The piyyut genre is at least as old as the tannaitic period and the 3rd century contemporary of
R. Judah the Prince, R. Eliezer b. R. Shimon is an early recorded Payyatan.78 However the flowering of
Piyyutim was probably that of the 7th century in Palestine by Yose ben Yose and Yannai. The Geonim
who fixed the order of prayer, sometimes fought against the inclusion of additions of piyyutim from
their order of tefillah.79 The Avudraham notes the battle against inclusion of additional piyyutim was to
prevent people from leaving the synagogues if they could not follow the piyyutim.80 The pre-Geonic
dating of the Azharot tradition is documented by the following texts: A responsum by R. Natronai Gaon
(850-860) the predecessor of the Behag deals with the laxity evinced by some communities in recitation
of the Azharot. Secondly, an automatic acceptance of the recital fo Azharot even in the middle of the
Mussaf Tefillah on the part of R. Amram Gaon argues strongly for the antiquity of the Azharot, since
some time must certainly have elapsed between the emergence of the Azharaha and its acceptance into
the actual prayer. Thirdly, Rav Saadya Gaon composed 2 Azharot. Saadya writes is due to the failing in
his eyes of the customary Azharot Atta Hinchalta81 that he sees fit to replace it with something else.82
Saadyas opinion quoted by Ibn Ezra83 to the effect that the law engraved upon the stones84 was in

Midrash Kohelet ch. 1
See Ginzberg, Louis, Legends, vol. 3, p.119; CF. Jerusalem Shekalim ch.6; Shir Rabbah sec. 5
Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar ch. 18
The meaning of the word Azaharah are: (1) A warning given in the case of biblical prohibitions (Ben Yehudah
dictionary, vol. 1, p. 124), (b) Throughout the midrashim warning is used in connection with positive precepts
(see Leviticus Rabbah 30:3), (c) A term expressing punishment. Guttman, Clavis, Talmudis (Budapest 1917), vol. 2,
p. 180, (d) Elbogen in his Encyclopedia Eshkol, heading Azhara suggested that the term Azharah came to be used
for this type of piyyut because the numerical equivalent of Azharat is TARYAG (Alef=1, Zayyin=7, Heh=5, Resh=200,
Taw= 400).
Piyyut, Paitanim, From Gr. Poeitria and Poietes, Waxman, history of Jewish Literature, 2nd ed. Vol. 1 , p.205.
Hildersheimers edition of Halachot Gedolot contains a piyyutistic ending. (see Gutman, p. 10)
Elbogen, An example is found in the morning service of the Sabbath preceding Pesah, See Otzar HaTefillot (Bilna,
1914), pt.2, p. 241.
Leviticus Rabbah, ch.30
Ginzberg, Geonica, vol. 1, p. 122, See also J.H. Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sefardim (London 1958), p. 101 and
notes ad. Loc. On the problem fo recital of piyyut during prayer.; The geonim were afraid people would leave the
synagogues when the recital of piyyutimm began.
And others recite them (the Azharot) after the repetition of the Mussaf Tefillah in order to avoid interrupting the
Tefillah itself and this is correct. (Sefer Avudraham (Warsaw, 1877), p.121.
Luzzatto concludes that the Azhara Atta Hinchalta antedates the Halachot Gedolot (Preface to Mahzor Italiani
p.8.10,26); The authorship of Atta Hinchalta and Azharat Reshit is unknown (see Zunz Literatur Geschichte der
Synagogalen Poesie (berlin, 1865), p. 4 and 21. Zunz dates both Azharot to the time fo the Sabboraim.
Rav Saadya Gaon siddur, p. 156, ed. I Davidson, S. Assaf and B.L Joel (Jerusalem, 1941).
Commentary to Deut. 27:1
reality TARYAG in the form of an Azharah confirms that to Saadya the Azharot were of remote origin.
Sadyas Azharot contain the new approach to group the TARYAG under the ten headings of the
Decalogue. Other famous Azharot such as Elijhah HaZakens Emeth Yehge Chikki and R. Issac
Algerbelonis Ayzeh Mekkom Binah follow independent arrangements. Some later TARYAG lists such as
that of R. David Vitalls Keter Torah take each letter of the Decalogue to represent a member of the
Taryag and then construct a 613 line poem, each containing one mitzvah and each line commenc ing
with the letters of the Decalogue as they appear in the text. The Baal Halachot Gedolot is not the
originator of the TARYAG lists but was preceded by the Azharot which were widespread at the time of
the BEHAG. The BEHAG used the widespread Azharot tradition for his own purposes.


Ibn Ezra in His Yesod Morah, chapter 2, in inveighing chiefly against compilers of the Azharot employs
logical arguments against all systems of enumeration. Ibn Ezra was preceded by Judah ibn Baalam in his
commentary to Deut. 30 (ed. Fuchs).85 Scholars have debated the question for centuries but no list has
been determined against which there were no objections.86 The Machzor Italiani confirms not allowing
the piyyutim to upset the established order of tefillot.87 Yet the siddur of Rab Amram Gaon includes the
Azharot in the middle of the Mussaf prayer.

Maimonides composed a work known as the Sefer Hamitzvot where he put down a list of his
classification of the 613 commandments, stemming from 14 roots upon which the enumeration of the
commandments should be based upon in essence criticizing the Halkot Gedolot for including Rabbinic
precepts among the 613 commandments and ascribing lists of Azharat to poets representing a
beautifully rendered popularization of the Rabbinic quest to systematize the laws. The azharah was a
liturgical poem with TARYAG as its theme and was recited regularly in the synagogue on Shavuot. In
Maimonides view later Azharot found in Spain postdate the Halachot Gedolot and their errors are due
to fidelity to the BeHags classification. Rav Saadya Gaon (882-942) who found the custom of reciting
Atta Hinchaltah entrenched in his time and who is cited by Ibn Ezra, predates the Azharot tradition to
before the BeHaG, and Luzzatto (preface to Machzor Italinai, p. 8,10,26) concludes that the Azharah
tradition (Atta Hinchalta) antedates the Halachot Gedolot. Saadya also authored an Azharot in his
Siddur , Anochi Esh Ochela (I am a consuming fire) which group the TaRYaG under ten headings of the
Decalogue and other famous Azharot such as Elijah Hazakens Emeth Yehege Chikki and R. Isaac
Algerbelonis Ayzeh Mekkom Binah follow their own ordering principle. Numerous Azharot have been
composed with TaRYaG as their theme including ones following Maimonides enumeration such as that
by Isaac Kimchi of Provence, Joshua Benveniste, and Rabbi David Vitals Ketter Torah dividing the
precepts in 18 groups. Maimonides asserts that the miztvot serve four purposes (1) Deot (correct

Deut. Ch.27
See B.Z. Halper, JQR, April 1914, 525.
Meiri, 13th C. scholar of Provence in his commentary to Makkot, ed. S. Waxman (NY, 1950) p. 115 says, the
details of those mitzvoth included in the 613 have become muddled at the hands of the commentators.
Machzor Italinan, , p. 154, and 157
notions), (2) Peulot (actions), (3) Middot (ethical characteristics), and (4) Dibbur (correct speech).
Maimonides also provides a list of the TaRYaG in the Guide for the Perplexed (Pt. III, ch. 35-49).

Maimonides classification list of the mitzvoth differs not only from the BeHaG but from Chefetz b.
Yatzliach and other systems in enumeration the mitzvoth, and Nachmanides took issue with
Maimonides on a number of commandments, defending the BeHaG, and comments that Elijah will
solve the matter of the proper enumeration. For example with regards to recitation of the Hallel
Nachmanides, Duran, and Daniel HaBabli uphold the position of the BeHaG that recital is biblical while
Rambam holds it is of rabbinic origin. Another difference between Maimonides and Nachmanides is that
while the Rambam holds that several priestly gifts are particulars to the type of sacrifice, Nachmanides
considers the separation of the heave offering, challah, first tithe, and poor tithe as mitzvoth distinct
from the act of giving them to the priest.

Solomon ibn Gabirol (1361-1444) is the author of the most well-known Azharot titled Shmor Libi
Maaneh, based on the BeHaG [which Caplan interestingly notes S.Y. Agnon built on his experience while
reading this Azharot designed for recitation of the first night of Shavuot]. Ibn Gabirol states, And He will
forgive the guilt (of popularizing the mitzvoth in poetic form], and He will increase the strength. And He
will bestow the wisdom to make mortals understand, which is understood by Duran and R. Menachem
of Troyes [Machzor Bologna, pirush on Azharah} to reflect the poets well intentioned searchings in
attempting to popularly enumerate the precepts, while relaying on the BeHaG. Nonetheless the Sefer-
HaMitzvot of Maimonides represents the turning point and culmination of the study of the TaRYaG with
the exception of the Sepher Yeraim by R. Eliezer of Metz, no TaRYaG work written after the 12th century
fails to take cognizance of Rambams Sefer HaMitzvot. The Tosafists R. Moses of Coucy, pupil of R.
Judah Sir Leon, and author a Sefer HaMitzvot Gadol, and R. Isaac of Corbeil, pupil of the MaHaRam of
Rothenburg, and author of Sefer Mitzvot Kattan, originally titled Shiva Amudei Olam. While the 13th
century Spain was dominated by the enumeration of R. Moses of Coucy the later centuries were much
influenced by the TaRYaG of R. Aaron of Barcelona HaLevy [ReAH (Rabbi Aaron HaLevi) ] author of Sefer
Hachinuch. The flowering of Lurianic Kabbalah in Safed gives birth the TaRYaG of R. Isaiah Horowitz,
ordained by Yaakov Berab, who lists the precepts in the order they appear in the Torah divided into
three parts: (1) Ner Mitzvah, (2) Torah Or, (3) Derekh Chayyim Tochachath Mussar, thereby mingling
positive and negative precepts, who was followed by Shabbattai Cohen in the latters Poel Tzdek.
Another work stemming from the mystical environment of Safed is the work titled, Charedim, by R.
Eliezer Azkari (published in Venice in 1959).

With this stage set of the long tradition of the development of the codification of the TaRYaG, Rabbi
Simon b. Zemach Duran (1361 Barcelona-1444 Algiers). Duran left Aragon where he enjoyed a
flourishing medical practice, penniless owing to the decrees of 1391 coming to occupy a prominent
position in North Africa. Duran was related by marriage to Nachmanides family (see genealogical table
in Jonah b. Abraham of Gerona, A.T,. Shrock, p. 19). Zohar Rakiah is noteworthy in four ways. Firstly it is
written in the form of a commentary to the Azharah Shemor Libbi Maaneh of ibn Gabirol so that
people who tremble for the word of the L-rd should study it [on Shavut] once a year. Duran criticizes
previous commentaries to this Azharah for their having mistakenly interpreted it according to
Maimonides TaRYaG list. Since Gabirol followed the BeHaG Duran remains faithful to this fact, while still
acknowledging the unquestionable authority of Rambam. Secondly while Duran employs Aramaisms
throughout his Responsa, the Hebrew style of the Zohar HaRakia is simple and flows smoothly avoiding
difficult forms of expression. Thirdly Durans works uniqueness is in the actual treatment of the
precepts. Maimonides and Nachmanides opinions are treated briefly and the essential proofs and
objections to each are given. Throughout clarity prevails, and Durans own respectful proofs or
objections to Rambam and Ramban abound so that if Rambam is the thesis, Ramban the anti-thesis,
Durans work is the Aufhebung. In a halakhic sense Duran is the Machria (Decisor) between Rambam
and Ramban synthesizing his 2 great predecessors views, but rejecting both their opinions when he
feels necessary so that the result is the most penetrating treatment of the TaRYaG. Thus Duran is forced
to include 24 positive precepts and 18 prohibitions that appear in neither Rambam nor Rambans lists.
Among these are the precepts to accept proselytes, to keep far from falsehood, and to repay a
creditor. In a number of instances Duran put forth his own views of what should be counted as a
commandment and what is not to be counted as a precept with regards to the predecessors Rambam
and Ramban i.e. adds precepts to Rambam #32 & #157, & #216, has taharat hamet in place of no. 107 of
Rambam, and replaces ten precepts of Rambam #237 with one: to judge righteously etc. Duran also
includes #9 of Rambam in #8 of Rambam, has an additional prohibition on Rambam #72, , includes #104
and #105 the prohibitions in #102 and #103, has two prohibitions for Rambam #184, etc. The fourth
distinguishing feature of Durans work is its hidden mystical esoteric quality although it is fundamentally
a halakhic work.88

A distinguishing feature of the Zohar HaRakiah by Duran is its allusion to Daniel 12:3 that some will shine like the
brightness of the firmament (Zohar harakiah) noting, when a wise man lies down with his fathers, he leaves
behind him a treasured and organized blessing: books that enlighten like the brilliance of the firmament and that
extend peace like a river (Isa. 66:12). Thus the 4rth aspect of the work is the mystical veiled language of its
introduction, from a halakhist of the greatest reknown. Moses de Leon in Or Zarua (ms. Oxford, Uri 318, Sefer
Harimon, ms. David Oppenheier, no. 731) was an open mystics who also wrote on the TaRYaG such as Ezra
Hamekkubal followed by R. Menachem Rekanti, and Isaac Luria [Taamei HaMitzvot LeHaAri forming part 3 of Nof
Etz Chayyim (Salonika 1852), Moses Cordovero [Taamei HaMitzvot, see Shem Hagedolim, pt. 11, no. 94 Metzudath
David of Radbaz (Zalkowa, 5622). Indeed an entire section of the Zohar, the Reyah Mehmna (Faithful Shepherd) is
devoted to enumeration of the TaRYaG offering a mystical interpretation of the precepts extending the concept
underlying the gemarah that all 613 mitzvot stem from the decalogue but adding that Torat HaSefirot (the law of
divine grades) of 10 divinely emanated sefirot, attributes of G-d from His distant gardens/PaRDeS. All of the
TaRYaG fit into one of the sefirot, a mystical ladder both from G-d to man and from man to G-d, linked to the
Decalogue, whereby the performance of mitzvoth [gathering the sparks] and contemplation of them effect
theurgically the cosmos, causing chain reactions throughout the hexagram tic architectonic of the sefirot
representing G-ds pleroma. Each mitzvah can be traced back via the root of the mitzvah in the Decalogue, in the
spiritual ascent of the particular sefirah. Durans introduction is cognizant of the Kabbalistic mystery that the
performance of a single mitzvah is linked with the TaRYaG mitzvoth, whereby the sefirot are dependent on each
other. Ultimately Duran not only synthesized the classification of Rambam and Ramban, but reconciled the
mystery between the exoteric (legal open meaning) and esoteric (hidden secrets). Zohar HaRakiah is very technical
and needs footnotes to make this fusion clear. For example a mystical section in Philip Caplans translation on page
15 reads, There is another allusion to this due the masters of Kabbalah, based on the 32 paths of wisdom, which
Abraham, our patriarch, mentioned in his well-known book, Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation). When you multiply
this by ten [the number of utterances] in the Decalogue, which also corresponds to the 10 sefirot [of the mystical
theory], you have 230. Multiply this number by two, one corresponding to the quality of love and the other to that
of awe, and it also corresponds to the commandment of remember (Ex. 20:8) and observe (Deut. 5:12) and also
to the two qualities of divine justice. This makes 640. Now subtract that from 27 letters of the Hebrew alphabet
Part III. Medieval Jewish Education

A. The Purpose of the Mizvot and Visions for Jewish Education89 in the Medieval Ages

With this overview of the different compilations of the TARYAG mitzvoth and their evolution over the
course of Jewish history we must devote some space to inquiring about the purpose of the mitzvoth
transmission which ideally are conveyed in a living masorah as P.A. notes oseh likhah rav. This
transmission need not require an institution as Rambam transmitted his esoteric understanding to
one star pupil named Yosef to whom he wrote and dedicated the Moreh HaNevukhim. This star student
had mastered both Torah and science and thus was multi-faceted and not narrow in the breadth and
scope of his learning. Mitzvah education is to instill for the Maimonidean the cultivation of intellectual-
moral-and spiritual virtue. This type of education as Jacob Katz notes is in jeopardy due to the tension
between tradition and the crisis of modernity that has led to the estrangement from Jewish tradition by
the processes of acculturation and assimilation and weaking of the Jewish kehilah.90 Yet for Maimonides
no matter how far Jews assimilate attempts should be made to draw them nearby friendly relations so
that they may return to the strength giving force i..e the Torah.91 For Maimonides teshuva atones for
everything and a person as P.A. notes can win olam ha-bah in just one instant flash of teshuva for one
does not know how Hashem validates each person in weighing a light from a heavy mitzvah. Rambams

[the 22 regular letters] plus [the final forms of] mem, nun, tzade, pe, kaph, there remains 613. For this reason the
Torah begins with the letter bet and ends with the lamed [numerical values 2 and 30, respectively] to correspond
with the 32 paths of wisdom. The above passage should be annotated and requires numerous footnotes for
example to identify Sefer Yetzirah vs. Rav Saadyas work with this title and the GRAs commentary, etc. . The quote
also requires a note explaining why the number 320 should be multiplied by 2 and what the author means by the
quality of love and awe, which are very extensive and deep topics in Jewish mysticism. Further footnotes should
also incorporate the recent findings from the Cairo Geniza for instance numerous examples of the Azharot, poems
of the TaRYaG read on Shavuot. Despite the importance of Caplans translation and its scholarly nature there is at
times a casual feeling inappropriate for an academic work. For example page 433 reads, If this whole matter
seems somewhat too technical and wearisome, and you dont feel like working it out in detail, you are quite
normal, and you may just choose to go through it hastily. We now return to the text of Duran at the words of od
matzinu. The serious student must never take short cuts, and Torah is so deep that it requires great effort to
decode according to the Rambam, and as ben Bag Bag says in P.A. turn it turn it everything is in it. For a tradition
that commands to meditate on it always, Talmud torah is equal to all the commandments, thou shalt make
known to them the way in which they should walk, and the deed that they shall do (Ex. 18:20), and for it is your
wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples (Deut. 4:6) etc. no note should suggest that learning is
essay for according to a Talmudic dictum, lifum zarah agrah (according to the effort is the reward) and in fact G-d
may very well be within consciousness of the details of such a halakhic and mystical work.
Philosophy of Jewish Education finds itself in the Rabbinic ethos of the ultimate redemptive purpose of learning
torah (Talmud Torah Kineged Kulam) all the way up to modern works in this genre such as Franz Rosenzweigs _On
Jewish Learning_.
See Katz, Jacob, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the end of the Middle Ages (NY: Schocken, 1971); Scholem
and Buber also wrote about the crisis in modernity but of course from a more philosophical and less traditional
Twersky, Isidore, Laws of Rebels 3:3 (AMR, 201; In this passage Maimonides refers to the tinokot shenishbu
(Children taken captive) who being raised in other faiths were deprived of a Jewish education. Maimonides was
alluding to the Karaits but as Twersky pointed out the 20th century halakhic authority Hazon Ish ruled that the term
applied to all nontraditional Jews in the contemporary era.
pirush on P.A. 4:2 comments on Run to do even a slight mitzvah for the carrying out of the mitzvah
draws another.92 For Maimonides the ideal person does not view him or herself as educated for
learning torah is never enough and never too late. Rather the constant process of life-long learning is
the medium through which moral and intellectual perfection can be striven for. A number of key
fundamental terms describe the teleology (purpose) of this lifelong learning and direction of such
education. Such terms include:

(1) Shlemut (perfection) i.e. Rambams son, Abraham writes an ethical work titled Darkei Shelemut
(Highways of Perfection)

(2) tikkun ha-nefesh93 (correction of the soul) 94

Rambam elucidates: We have already explained the interpretation fo this passage in the 10th chapter of
Sanhedrin. And our sages, blessed be their memory testified to this wonderful innovative insight in the Torah, one
in which there is an inducement for carrying out the mitzvoth. It says Then Moses set apart 3 cities on the side of
the Jordan, which is east of the sunrise (Deut. 4:41). Now it is known that they are of no use ( i.e these cities
cannot legally provide a refuge to those who murdered unintentially] since the law of the cities of refuge would
not apply to them until the other three cities of refuge in Eretz Yisrael would be set apart. They the Sages said :
Moses blessed be his memory knew that the three cities beyond the Jordan would not be able to take in
unintentional murderers until the three cities of refuge in Eretz Yisrael would set apart since it is written, there
shall be 6 cities of refuge (Num. 35:12). Nevertheless he set apart those cities on the east side of the Jordan since
he thought that seeing that a mitzvah has come my way- I will carry it out. Now if our teacher Moses blessed be
his memory, the discovered of truths the most perfect among those who are perfect, was so eager to add a half of
the positive mitzvah to his high stature and perfection- it goes without saying the same should be done to those
whose soul has been infected by disease, which is intensifying and spreading. Moshe Rabbenu is referred to in
this commentary on P.A. as shalem she-ba shelimim (the most perfect among those who are perfect).
See: Twersky, I., Introduction to the Code of Maimonides, New Haven: CT.: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), see 300 &417
See for instance the GRAs commentary on Sefer Yonah. Allegory for the sojourn of the neshamah in olam ha-
zeh. Hashem sent Yonah to rectify the moral condition of Nineveh but instead of fulfilling G-ds will, Yonah tried to
escape by boarding a ship for Tarshish. Similarly the neshamah is sent to rectify the world through Torah study and
mitzvos, but instead of fulfilling its mission, it allows itself to be deceived by the bodys physical impulses and
gashmius. The bodys ability to deceive the neshamah is alluded to in the name Yonah for the verbal form of Yonah
is related to the noun Honaah (deception) see Rashi Vayikra 25:17. Just as Jonah initially failed to carry out his
mission and consequently endangered his life, so too the neshamah initially fails in its mission to rectify the world
and consequently brings grat harm upon itself in the process (zohar II, 199b). And although Jonah was granted a
second chance to complete his mission, he was very distressed by what he perceived as his bad fortune. The same
is true of the neshamah- when the neshamah fails in its mission, it is reincarnated and given another opportunity
to fulfill its mission but like Jonah it is greatly disturbed by the necessity of reincarnation. The verse and it
displeased Jonah alludes to the physical hardships experienced by the reincarnated neshamah of someone who
had sinned in a previous life. As Hazal say, Longevity, children and parnasah do not depend on merit but mazal
(Moed Katan 28a)- the reincarnated neshamah of a person who sinned in his previous life is destined to feel
deprivation in these three areas even if he is completely righteous in his present life. This was Hazals intention
when they said that Moses asked Hashem: Master of the universe! Why do some righteous individuals enjoy a
good life, while other righteous individuals suffer? G-d answered Moshe, Moses a righteous individual who
enjoys a good life is a righteous individual born to a righteous individual, while a righteous individual who suffers is
a righteous individual who was born of a wicked individual (Berachos 7a). In other words a righteous person who
was righteous in a previous life will enjoy a good life, whereas a righteous person who was wicked in a previous life
will suffer throughout his next gilgul. See: The book of Yonah, Journey of the Soul: an allegorical commentary
adapted from the Vilna Gaons Aderes Eliyahu, edited by Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, Mesorah Publication: Brooklyn,
(3) kedushah (holiness)95

(4) daat Hashem (Knowledge of G-d)96

(5) ahavat Hashem (love of G-d)97

(6) avodat Hashem (service of G-d)

Understanding these and other key terms of Jewish education will illuminated the means of the
medieval educational curriculum. This is before what Katz describes as the crisis of modernity and its
Freudian discontents. In Maimonidean terms the mitzvoth and their understanding (taamei mitzvoth)
help to sociologically shape the supreme spiritual-moral-and intellectual character of each soul to the
extent of the persons abilities in these areas of development. The whole purpose of the mitzvoth is to
acquire moral and intellectual qualities.98 The practice of mitzvoth is intended to bring a person to
supreme religious intellectual achievements. A mitzvah offers for meditation and intellectual
comprehension which is awakened in its understanding before performance. One who understands the
reason for a mitzvah is obviously more meritorious than one who performs mitzvoth as a mechanical
robot. For the Rambam there must be understanding of the mitzvoth. Intellectual achievement for the
Rambam is a vital and critical component of the religious striving for perfection. It is a religious
obligation to use our intellectual powers to deliver into the nature of the universe and meaning of the
Torah, both of which are revelations of the divine. The purpose of intellectual reflection and the mastery
of the various scientific disciplines is the spiritual experience coterminous with intellectual cognition of
the PARDES. The purpose of the mitzvoth is to suppress mans natural tendency of yetzer and correct his
moral qualities, as a prerequisite for the greater vision of the PARDES. Reverence is due not to the
commandments themselves but to Him who issued them. The mitzvoth lead one eventually to
contemplation of G-d, inquiry, and constant being caught up with Him transferring to love of Him
(ahavas haShem). For Rambam only penetration to the intention and motivation of the commandments
and their essence can open a way for the person to attain perfection or a state of absolute ahavas
Hashem. Ultimately the essence and purpose of the mitzvoth is to teach one that all the laws of the
torah are intended to elevate men to the highest possible level of morality, to the most exalted level of
kedushah, and to the perfection from these attainments.

B. Economic Ramifications of Jewish Medieval Literacy

For Eckstein and Botticini in their book, _Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492,
these goals of Jewish education are motivated by practical economic benefits that see the investment in

seeTwersky, I., Introduction to the Code of Maimonides, New Haven, CT.: Yale Univ. Press, 1980, 286-288.
seeTwersky, I., Introduction to the Code of Maimonides, New Haven, CT.: Yale Univ. Press, 1980, 261 & 511,
Ibid., 215-216, 262, 363, 478.
See: Epistle to Yemen: If he could only fathom the inner intent of the law, he would realize that the essence of
the true divine religion lies in the deeper meaning of its positive and negative precepts, every one of which will aid
man in his striving for perfection, and remove every impediment to the attainment of excellence. These commands
will enable the masses and the elite to acquire moral and intellectual qualities each according to his ability (
; /
) ;
Jewish education not just one of continuity but also reaping financial returns in economic prosperity.
They write, Investing in literacy and education as Judaism requires is a very costly signal for individuals
and households living in farming economies in which there are no economic returns to literacy. As we
show the decisions to invest in a sons literacy and to remain or become a member of a religious group
are related.99 Eckstein concludes, Hence in the long run Judaism does not survive in farming
economies that are subject to negative aggregate shocks and in which there are no economic returns to
investment in religious and general literacy.100 Eckstein assumes that Jewish fathers will not invest in
their childrens education if the marginal cost of providing basic Jewish education is large and or the
level of family consumption when the minimum level of education is provided is low. In short: At the
individual level, families with low ability sons or with sons who do not like studying or families whose
opportunity costs of sending their sons to school instead of having them work on a farm are high will be
less likely to invest in childrens literacy and education. Fathers with low levels of attachment to
Judaism and low levels of literacy and education will also be less likely to educate their sons.101 Because
investment in religious literacy is a major sacrifice in farming economies in which there are little or no
economic returns to literacy and education, Eckstein concludes that a proportion of Jews convert,
causing the Jewish population to shrink. Thus poverty is the cause of assimilation leading to conversion
to other religions according to Eckstein. Eckstein argues that if children became more expensive after
the implementation of the religious norm of educating for Hebrew literacy requiring fathers to send
their sons to primary school- in addition to feeding and clothing them, some families especially the ones
with low incomes, might have decided to have fewer children in order to be able to obey the religious
norm. That is what economists call rabbinic Judaism creating a quality-quantity tradeoff for parents.
The Jewish farmers with low earnings and Jewish fathers who were less able to bear the opportunity
costs of educating their sons were more likely to convert. Eckstein argues that Hebrew literacy was seen
Botticini & Eckstein, Chosen Few: How Education shaped Jewish History, 70-1492, Princeton Univ. Press: NJ,
2012, p.86; One of the problematic assumptions of Eckstein's book is that it assumes as does microeconomic
theory that each person under various circumstance will act according to their best economic interest. Eckstein's
book that all Jewish parents educated their children based on practical economic considerations to "get a return"
on their "investment in literacy" by investing capital in what was mobile, the acquiring of a Jewish education may
be the case for the many i.e. majority but to paint in such generalizations does not do justice to the exceptional
cases which in Rabbinic thought are the ideal such as learning lishma. Eckstein's assumption contradicts the ideal
ethos of rabbinic learning which should be lishma. Even Christians admired this aspect of learning "lishma"
amongst the Jews. For instance one of Peter Abelard's students in the 12th century wrote a letter in which he
contrasted the Jewish emphasis on education exemplified by the regularity with which Jews out of zeal for G-d and
love of the law, put as many sons as they have to letters, that each may understand G-d's law... We read, "If the
Christians educated their sons they do so not for G-d but for gain, in order that the one brother if he be a clerk (a
cleric), may help his father and mother and his other brothers.... But the Jews out of zeal for G-d and love of the
law, put as many sons as they have to letters, that each may understand G-d's law...." (Smalley, Study of the Bible,
78). However like Christian students Jewish students often traveled from one school of one school to soak up
wisdom from a variety of teachers. Rashi on Shir Hashirim 5:16 writes, "Like doves that wander from one dovecote
o the second to seek their food, so they go from the school of one scholar to the school of another scholar to seek
explanations.... for the Torah. Eckstein assumes that the choice to educate sons was based solely on practical
economic utilitarian "return" for investment input. Such a crude application of analysis to Rabbinic learning is
indeed common. However it is not the ideal however rare those cases be today as was also lamented by the
Maharal in his times.
Ibid., 88.
Ibid, 93.
to have practical benefits so that parents invest in it such as learning to read helps people learn to write
and help numeracy and the ability to compute prices, costs, interest rates, exchange rates, and thus to
keep account books. Eckstein argues further that literacy is useful and a good investment for craftsmen,
merchants, money lenders, and physicians who prefer to be in urban skilled occupations than farmers.
Eckstein writes, Assuming that the costs of acquiring literacy and education for Jews and on Jews are
the same and that the economic returns from literacy and education are the same for Jews and non-
Jews, Jews will invest more in their childrens literacy and education because as members of a religion
that highly values literacy, they reap the additional benefits from obeying the religious norm and
becoming literate.102 The essence of Ecksteins argument is that the spillover effects of investing in
Jewish literacy help and benefit Jews practically in the world of commerce. Literacy gave a competitive
advantage to reading and writing contracts and ability to perform calculations, compute exchange rates,
and produce written accounts of business transactions which in turn allowed for communication across
mercantile global trading networks. News about travel, conditions including safety from pirates and
other dangers, demand for products in a particular location, changes in prices, arbitrage, opportunities
and a wealth of additional information transmitted in writing was all facilitated according to Eckstein by
the requirement to educate and make literate Jewish boys. Jews who went on for advanced studies in
Talmudic logic acquired skills to rationally think, problem solve, and analyze. In short Eckstein argues
that religious literacy had positive spillover effects in business making it a profitable investment for later
engagement in trades in crafts, moneylending, and other professional areas. Eckstein concludes that
the relative higher level of literacy among Jews coupled with a set of contract enforcement institutions
(The Talmud, Rabbinic courts, responsa), gave the Jews a competitive advantage in business over non-
Jews in crafts, trade, commerce, and moneylending once the urbanization and growth of commerce
after the rise of Islam occurred during the 8th and 9th centuries creating a huge demand for these
occupations. Eckstein argues that there was a kind of industrial revolution in these centuries as Jews left
farming as an occupation and universal primary education which was earlier established by Joshua ben
Gamla became a reality whereby according to Eckstein Jews were motivated to invest in educating their
children in religious literacy because the spill over benefit of this helped their children succeed later in
business. According to Eckstein Jews reaped returns from their investments in literacy and contract
enforcement institutions. Eckstein argues that Jewish merchants will invest more in their childrens
literacy and education than non-Jewish merchants because they also derive direct utility from childrens
literacy and education at the rate that is exponential relative to the cost investment in the long run.
Eckstein argues that the large number of loan contracts and the need to have written records of these
transactions presented a problem for local people, most of whom were illiterate. The Jews ability to
read and write- the legacy of the religious norm requiring fathers to educate their sons beginning in
childhood- gave Jews an important comparative advantage in shop keeping, long distance trade, money
lending, and other occupations in which literacy was valuable.103 Eckstein continues, Jews
comparative advantage in literacy was the lever of their prominence in crafts, trade, and money lending.
Literacy and education coupled with the availability of contract- enforcement institutions (Talmud, the
response, and rabbinic courts in each location) enhanced their geographical mobility which in turn made

Botticini & Eckstein, 129.
Ibid., p. 168.
it possible to establish new Jewish communities in many locations in Egypt and the Maghreb104 In
Western Europe of Germany, France, and England Jews also had this advantage and were often invited
to regions by monarchs to foster trade as money lenders. Like the migrations of Jews within the Muslim
caliphates during the 9th thru 11th centuries the Jewish Diaspora to and within Europe from 850 to 1150
was set in motion by highly literate and skilled individuals in search of business opportunities and Jews
were sometimes invited by local rulers to foster economic growth. While the local monarchs may have
invited the Jews to a region and established their rights in Charters, the monks often opposed the Jews
being in moneylending. Christian loan banks (called montes pietatis, monti di pieta, or mons de piete)
were established in many Italian and later European towns under pressure from the Franciscan monks
beginning in the late 15th century ; the monks goal was to eradicate what they considered the nefarious
practice of charging usurious exorbitant interest rates, which had negative consequences especially for
the poor.105 Jewish literacy was drawn upon by moneylenders who would record the amount of loan in
account books by listing the name of the borrower, the type of collateral, the interest rate. Jews were
often behind the mechanism of arbitrage which takes advantage of different market conditions in
different areas coupled with the ability to swiftly pool and transfer wealth via networking to move it
from one place to another taking advantage of profits. Some Jewish money lenders such as Aaron of
Lincoln106 (1123-86) became so wealthy that they owned signifant parts of England in relative size to
monarchs. This concentration of wealth in the hands of Jewish moneylenders led to backlash of
violence.107 Cecil Roth does not emphasize as Eckstein does the Jewish advantage in literacy but argues
that Jews gravitated to money lending because guild membership excluded Jews.108 Haym Soloveitchik
however has argued that Jewish laws concerning wine are the missing link why Jews at least in Germany
gravitated to moneylending between the 11th and 14th centuries.109

Ibid., p. 170.
Ibid, p. 203; Jews were involved in the development of bills of exchange needed to move large sums of money
over space and time to settle the business transactions at the annual fairs, coupled with the desire to avoid
carrying large quantities of coins. Jews according to Eckstein were behind the creation of credit markets that partly
fueled the growth of economic activities of medieval Europe.
Unfortunately the history of Englands Jews ended in 1275 with King Edwards issue of the Statutum de
Judaismo which forbade anglo Jewery from lending money on interest. Instead the Lombards, the Tuscan banking
houses and William de La Pole took up the former role of the Jews in the credit markets. Similarly Charles IV
replaced the with the Lomard licensed moneylenders and expelled the Jews in 1330. In 1349 due to the Black
death scapegoating of the Jews the deeds and debt bills of Jewish money lenders were burned and the Jewish
community massacred in Cologne. In 1372 the Jews were reinvented to resettle in Cologne but then expelled in
1424. For their time in Cologne Jews paid 70 marks, as well as an extra yearly tax to lend money. Jewish money
lending reached its apogee in northern Italy through the condotta, a bilateral contract between the town
government and Jewish lender. The condotte were long term charters binding both parties for a period of 5 to 25
years and charters regulated annual interest rate ceilings. This money lending also backfired as the Inquisition in
Italy persecuted the Jews.
Episodes include the blood libel in Norwich in 1144, the attack in Gloucester in 1168, the massacre of Jews in
Norwich in 1144, the massacre of the Jews of York in 1144. (see Baron, social and religious History of the Jews,
1952, vol.4, cha. 20 and 22
Roth, Cecil, Jewish contribution to Civilization, 1938, 228
Soloveitchik, Haym, Pawn broking: A Study in the Inter-Relationship between Halakhah, Economic Activity, and
Communal Self Image, Jerusalem: Hebrew Univ, 1985; Wine was subject to short-term fluctuations so it generated
a large demand for credit from farmers who owned vineyards and produced wine. Halakhically Jews bought their
C. Maimonidean Medieval Understanding of Not Using the Torah as a Spade with Which to Dig

For Rambam the various genres of Rabbinic texts can be categorized based on a gemarah that indicates
that a Jew must study three areas (shelashtem): mikra, Mishnah, and gemarah. Rambams
understanding of this gemarah is revolutionary in that gemarah comes to incorporate Jewish philosophy
(PARDES110= Wisdom,111- peshat, remez, derash, sod112) as explicated in the Laws of Torah Study.113

own land so that they could produce their own wine that would not be touched by gentiles. Rashi argued that
gentiles could repay their debts to Jews with wine but forbade Jews from drinking or selling this wine. Nearly 100
years later the Jews in Germany lifted almost all restrictions regarding the use of gentile wine as a means of
repaying loans, so that Jews could receive wine as collateral from gentiles. Soloveitchik argues that because the
Talmudic restrictions regarding the drinking and touching of gentile wine, the Jews could engage in wine
production and trade only through credit transactions with gentiles. This missing link explains the transition of
Jews into moneylending in Germany in the 11th to 14th centuries.
See MT. Talmud Torah 4:13; The topics connected with the five precepts treated in the above four chapters are
what our wise men called PARDES (Paradise), as in the passage arba sheniknasu biPardes (Hagigah 14). And
although those four were great men of Israel and great sages, they did not all possess the capacity to know and
grasp these subjects clearly. Therefore I say that it is not proper to dally in PARDES till one has first filled oneself
with bread and meat. By which I mean knowledge eof what is permitted and what is forbidden, and similar
distinctions in other classes of precepts. Although these last subjects were called by the sages, a small thing
(when they say A great thing maaseh merkavah; a small thing the discussion of Abbayye and Rava [i.e. Talmudic
debate]) still they should have the precedence. For the knowledge eof these things gives primarily composure to
the mind. They are the precious boon bestowed by G-d to promote social wellbeing on earth, and enable men to
obtain bliss, in olam ha-bah. Moreover the knowledge of them is within reach of all regardless of their intellectual
abilities, young and old, men and women; those gifted with great intellectual capacity as well as those whose
intelligence is limited. The attainment of PARDES however is for the intellectual elite.
The inclusion of philosophy in oral law is posited by Maimonides in a chapter of Sefer HaMada in the laws of the
Basic principles of Talmud Torah [4:13]. There he restates his identification of the account of the creation (Gen. 1)
with Physics, and the maaseh ha-merkavah (Ezek. 1) with metaphysics, as set forth in his pirush al ha-mishnah;
this equation of physics with maaseh bereshit and metaphysics with maaseh merkavah is repeated later in the
last work of the Rambam, the Moreh HaNevukhim. The subtext of the mashe merkavah clearly incorporates
Hagigah 2:1 and its commentary in Hagigah 12b-14b.
Sod for the Rambam includes maaseh bereshit and maaseh merkavah set forth in the commentary on the
Mishnah Hagigah 2:1-Now list to what I have determined according to my understanding from my study of the
writings of the sages: in the term maaseh bereshit they refer to the natural sciences and the study of cosmology.
By maaseh merkavah they mean theology i.e. the discussion of the nature of reality and the existence of the
Creator. His knowledge, His attributes, the necessity of all that emanates from Him, the angels, the soul, human
reason, and olam ha-bah. On account of the importance of these 2 types of science the natural and the divine that
the sages rightly considered of great importance they cautioned against studying them in the same manner as the
other disciplines. For it is known that every man be he foolish or wise, is drawn naturally toward all the disciplines [
based on opening of Aristotles metaphysics: all men desire to know]. It is impossible for a man to avoid
contemplating these 3 sciences on a primary level, directing his thought towards them, without any prior
introductions and without having progressed through the stages of scientific method and study. Thus the text
warned about this in order to prevent it, seeking to discourage whoever thinks he can direct his thought towards
the maaseh bereshit without proper scientific preparation, as it is said: Whoever gazes upon 4 things. And as a
warning to one who tries to direct his thoughts and contemplate upon matters relating to the divine with his
simple imagination without having progressed through the stages of scientific study, it is said: Whoever is not
careful about the honor of his Maker. It would have been better for him not to have come in the world. This
means that it would have been better had he not been part of humanity, but had rather been of another species of
creature for he is seeking knowledge not appropriate to his way and his nature; for he does not understand what is
above and what is below, but is foolish in matters of reality. And when a man devoid of all knowledge seeks to
Rambam parses the difference between these three areas from the pusek in Shemot 24:12 And I will
give to you the tables of stone, and the law (torah), and the commandment (mitzvah).114 The equation
of Mishnah, mitzvah, and torah she-beal peh is delineated. Rabbi Abraham Maimonides clarifies that
Mishnah refers not to a given text but to the principle sources of tradition115 i.e Mishnah refers to the
entire corpus of oral law, the Talmud and its expanding commentary for the Rambam. The Rambam
thought the MT. to cover this wide scope.116 In the Shemoneh Perakhim of the Rambam the torah is

contemplate and thereby know what is above the heavens and what beneath the earth, using his deficient
imagination which thinks of the heavens as though they were the attic of his house, and to know what was before
the heavens were created and what will be after they cease to exist, this will surely bring him to despair and
distraction. He who considers this wonderful, divinely inspired expression, Whoever is not careful about the
honor of his Maker realizes that it refers to one who is not careful about his intellect, for the intellect is the
honor of G-d. And since such a man is not aware of the value of this think that has been granted to him, he is given
to the control of his appetites and is made animal like. This is why it was said whoever is not careful about the
honor of his Maker. Refers to one who sins in secret; and elsewhere it was said, Adulterers do not commit
adultery until a spirit of foolishness has entered into them. This is true for when the appetite rules- any appetite-
the intellect is not whole. The Mishnah mentions this matter here, because above it was stated that these are the
essentials of the torah. now this text delineates the foundations of the essentials of the torah.
See Laws of Talmud Torah 1:11-12; The time allotted to study should be divided into three parts. A third should
be devoted to the written law, a third to the oral law, and the last third should be spent in reflection, deducing
conclusions from premises, developing implications of statements, comparing dicta, studying the hermeneutical
principles by which the Torah is interpreted till one knows the essence of these principles, and how to deduce
what is permitted and what is forbidden from what one has learned traditionally . This is termed Talmud. For
example if one is an artisan who works at his trade 3 hours daily and devotes nine hours to the study of the torah
he should spend three of these 9 hours in the study of the written law, three in the study of the oral law, and the
reaming 3 in reflecting on how to deduce one rule from another. The words of the prophets are comprised in the
written law, while their exposition falls within the category of the oral law. The subjects styled PARDES (esoteric
studies) are included in Talmud. This plan applies to the period when one begins learning. But after one has
become proficient and no longer needs to learn the written law or continually be occupied with the oral law, he
should at fixed times read the written law and the traditional dicta, so as not to forget any of the rule sof the torah,
and should devote all his days exclusively to the study of Talmud according to the breadth of his mind and maturity
of intellect.
The law refers to the written law, the commandment to its interpretation. G-d bade us fulfill the law in
accordance with the commandment. The commandment refers to that which is called oral law.
R. Abraham ben Moseh, commentary on Shemot 24:12, A. Wiesenberg eds. (London: S.D. Sason, 1959), 282-84
See intro to pirush al ha-mishnah, sect. 10, ed. Y. Kappach (Jerusalem, Mossad HaRav Kook, 1963); The scope of
the MT is noted in the last paragraph of the intro. T the pirush al ha-mishnah where it is clarified: It seems to me
that if this work covers the entire Mishnah as I will explain, it will have 4 great uses. First, that we will make known
the correct interstation of the Mishnah and explicate tis terms; for if you were to ask the greatest of the scholars
to explain a particular halakhah from the Mishnah he would not be able to answer unless he had memorized the
Talmud on that halakhah; or he would reach the point at which the Talmud on the topic would have to be looked
at. No one is able to memorize the whole Talmud, especially when one halakhah in the Mishnah gives rise to four
or five folios as the Talmud moves from topic to topic, brining proofs, challenges, and solutions to the point where
no one who is not a great expert in the text can possibly summarize the interpretation of a particular Mishnah. And
this does not even take into account those halkhot whose interpretation is scattered through several different
tractates. Second as to the halakhic decisions: I will indicate, for each halkhah whose opinion determines the final
decision. Third that it will serve as an introduction for one beginning to study, enabling him to learn all matters
with precision and clarity and to encompass thereby the entire contents of the Talmudim. This will greatly assist
the study of Talmud. And fourth, it will serve as a review for one who has already studied and learned, helping him
keep all of his knowledge always accessible and organized. And when I thought about all of these things, I was
drawn to write the work of which I had conceived. My intention in this work is to explicate the Mishnah as it is
referred to as the book of truth.117 Maimonides ideal was disciplined scholarly interest in the entire
range of the oral law, even including those laws pertaining to the matters of the Beit HaMikdash.

D. Genres of Medieval Jewish TEXTS in the Educational Curriculum

All the genres of texts that evolved over Rabbinic history could be categorized into Rambams 3 rubrics.
Although the Rambam did not posit much value in historical works which to him were a little below
poetry, with philosophy the Queen of the sciences, and metaphysics being maaseh merkavah and
Physics maaseh bereshit, any catalog of Judaica should include room to enumerate the following genres
which Rambam understands to be under the 3 areas that one should divide their study under:

(1) The Mishnah (ca. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi in 190 CE)

(2) Tosefta recorded by R. Chiyya ca.200 CE

(3) Babylonian Talmud ( redacted by Rav Ashi (d.427 CE) and Ravina II d. 475 CE)

(4) Jerusalem Talmud (R. Yose B. Bun 350 CE)

(5) Early Halakhic Midrashim (Mekilta, Sifra, Sifrei) from the Tannaitic era

(6) later Aggadic Midrashim in the Amoraic and Geonic periods

(7) The formation of the Jewish liturgy from the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah and later religious prayers

(8) Translations into Aramaic (Targumim by Yonassen b. Uziel and Onkelos) (9) Classic mephorshim
(commentaries) on the Tanakh and rabbinic works by parshanim (commentators) who wrote gloasiata,

(10) Talmudic novellae (chiddushim) by Tosafists, Nahmanides, Nissim of Gerona, Solomon ben Aderet
(RaShBA), Yomtov ben Ashbili (Ritva)

(11) TaRYAG Lists of the 613 commandments (mitzvoth)

(12) codes of law (Tur of Rabbi Yakov ben Asher the son of the Rosh, Mishnah Torah, Shulchan Arukh

(13) Responsa genre of text known as sheolot ve-teshuvot

interpreted in the Talmudim, presenting only the correct interpretations and leaving out those rejected in the
Talmud; I will record the reason for each particular decision as well as the reasons in some cases for controversies
where they arose; also the names of the sages according to whose position the halkha was decided as indicated in
the Talmud. In all this I will strive for brevity of language so that the reader will not be left with uncertainty; for this
work is not written to explain to those who cannot comprehend but rather to explain to those capable of
Commentary on the Mishnah, Eight Chapters, chapter 3, edited by Twerski, I., A Maimonides Reader, 366-67.
(14) Ethical works (Sifrei ha-middot) such as Hovot LeVavot by Bahya ibn Paquda, Sharei Teshuvah by
Jonah of Gerona ), Shemoneh Perakhim of the Rambam, and the 15th Century German work, called
Orot addiim

(15) Philosophic works (Sifrei Machshava) such as Emunot v'Dayyot by Rav Saadya Gaon, Kuzari by
Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy, Moreh HaNevukhim by Rambam, , Sefer Ikkarim by Joseph Albo, Milhamot
HaShem by Gersonides, and Or Adonai by Crescas,

(16) countless mystical texts (Sifrei Kabbalah) from Sefer Yetzirah attributed to Rabbi Akiva who
attributed it to Avraham to the Zohar of R. Shimon b. Yochai (ca. 170 CE) to 6th century Sifrei Hekhalot
[(Palace texts) Hekhalot Rabbati, in which six of the seven palaces of God are described, Hekhalot
Zutarti, Shiur Komah] , to the Medieval Provencal Sefer HaBahir to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadis
Tanya, etc.

(17) Musar texts such as the 12th century Sefer Hasidim by Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg (born 1140
in Speyer - Feb. 22, 1217[1] in Regensburg) the later Mesillat Yesharim of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
and Ohr Yisrael of Rabbi Israel Salanter

(18) Historical works (Sifrei HaDorot) post- Josephus, such as Azariah ben Moses dei Rossis Meirat
Eynaim, to Shem ha-Gedolim by Haim Yosef David Azulai ben Isaac Zerachia (1724 1 March 1806) to
the explosion of interest in historiography in the Wissenschaft des Judentums Beweugung (i.e.
Geschichte des Judische Volkes by Dubnov and Graetz Geschichte der Juden)

(19) Sifrei Dikduk, Grammatical works from The Masoretes in the 7th to 11th centuries of the ben
Asher family such as Aaron ben Moses ben Asher who refined the Tiberian vocalization to the High
Middle Ages in Spain where grammatical works were composed by Judah ben David Hayyuj, Jonah ibn
Janah, Abraham ibn Ezra [Moznayim (1140)] , Joseph Kimhi, Moses Kimhi and David Kimhi.

(20) Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, and Yiddish Literature hybrid texts

(21) Sermons (Drashot)118

See: Saperstein, Marc, "Your voice like a ram's horn" : themes and texts in traditional Jewish preaching
Imprint Cincinnati : Hebrew Union College Press ; West Orange, NJ : Distributed by Behrman House, c1996 ; In the
essay, The Sermon as Oral Performance Saperstein treats the interplay between oral speech and the written text
of the sermon. This genre of sermonizing is interdisciplinary often with musar, as when Morteira enjoins his
audience, How good and fine it would be for every person to take pride and to compete with his neighbor not in
the great size of his house but in the greatness of his soul, which is the house of ethical virtues and intellectual
attainments. Not in foods but in feeding the poor and abundant charity. Not in clothes but in a good name and
serenity and in imitation fo Gods ways and in the mystical garment of good deeds. This would be the
remembering of Jerusalem, this would be the shortening of our exile. And now that we fail to do this, the plagues
of Jerusalem mount. Perhaps we may open our eyes from preoccupation with ourselves sto see whether the way
we are following is good, so that these afflctions will no longer come upon it. This is why members of the Vaad
passed the ordiances they did to help in its redemption, so that the feet of Israel will not move from upon it.
Saperstein, Marc, The Sermon as Oral Performance, In Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality, and
Cultural Diffusion, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, p.267
(22) Letters (Iggerot), Amulets, & Miscellanea.

E. Medieval Jewish Pedgagogy in the Context of its development from ANCIENT JEWISH PEDAGOGY

Jews have always put emphasis on the importance of education and learning. Josephus notes a key
difference between Jews and non-Jews in the Second Temple period when he writes:

The Jews consider the birth of a child to be no occasion for festivity or an excuse for drinking to excess.
The law. Orders that they shall be taught to read, and shall learn both the laws and the deeds of their
forefathers in order that they may imitate the latter, and being grounded in the former may neither
transgress nor have any excuse for being ignorant of them (c. 96 CE).

During the first millennium BCE the two pillars of Judaism were the Beit HaMikdash and Torah and
Levitical priests not only were involved in the activities of music, courts, guarding gates and offering
sacrifices but in teaching torah. Thus the injunction in Zot HaBrachah to shevet Levi: They shall teach
Jacob Thine ordinances, And Israel Thy Law; They shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt-
offering upon Thine altar.119 Indeed the Shema (Deut. 6:6-7) enjoins each Jew to teach their children
diligently the laws and speak of them as you are at home and as you walk on the way and before going
to bed and when one rises up in the morning.120 An important step in making reading a central feature
of Judaism took place when Ezra the scribe established public reading of the Torah on Mondays and
Thursdays in addition to Shabbat. Henceforth the torah was read and explained by meturgiman (who
translated into the vernacular at that time Aramaic) in public. In the time of the Soferim (515- 200 BCE)
establishment of the academies for higher learning in Jerusalem trained high priests for the Beit
HaMikdash.121 During the 1st century BCE schools for higher education were also founded in Jerusalem
and other towns under the leadership of Hillel and Shammai.122 Shammai like the later tanna Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai enjoined, Make the study of torah your chief occupation. Under the influence of
the av bet din of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetah (ca. 65 BCE), free secondary schools for
sixteen and seventeen year olds were established throughout Eretz Yisrael. Compulsory education
became a religious norm however in the milieu of competing sects between Pharisees, Saducees, and
Essenes described by Josephus.123 Within this context of competing sects the establishment of a further


) :

() :
Ginzberg Students, Scholars, Saints, Philadelphia: JPS, (1943, p.8-11)
Shmuel Safrai, Bet Hille and Bet Shammai in Encyclopedia Judaica, ed. By M. Berenbaum & F. Skolnik, 2nd ed.
Vol. 3 (2007); also see: Elementary education: Its Religious and Social Significance in the Talmudic Period in
Cahiers dhistoire Mondiale 2, no.1-2 (1968): 148-69; Education and the study of Torah, in The Jewish People in
the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural, and Religious Life and Institutions, ed. By
Shmuel Safrai and Menachem Stern, vol.2, 945-70, Assen: Van Gorcum, 1976; the era of the mishna and Talmud
in A history of the Jewish People, ed. By Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, 307-82, Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976.
See Antiquities of the Jews (bk. 13, ch.5, sec.9) & The Life of Flavius Josephus (para 2); The Wars of the Jews (bk.
2, ch.8); At the time there were three sects among the Jews who had different opinions concerning human
actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of
unique Jewish educational system took place as the result of a Takkana by Rabbi Joshua ben Gamla (63-
65 CE) , requiring every Jewish father to send his six or seven year old sons to a primary school.124
described 250 years later by a sugyot in in the Babylonian Talmud:125

However, that man is to be remembered for good, and his name is Joshua ben Gamla; for were it not
for him, Torah would have been forgotten in Israel. For at first he who had a father was taught Torah
by him, and he who had no father did not study torah. It was then decreed that teachers of children
should be appointed in Jerusalem. However, he who had a father, the father would bring him to
Jerusalem and have him taught, while he who had no father would not come to Jerusalem to study. It
was then decreed that teachers of the young should be appointed in every district throughout the
land. But the boys would be entered in the school at the age of sixteen and seventeen and if the
teacher would rebuke one of them, he would resent it and leave. Thus it was until Joshua ben Gamla
decreed that teachers of children should be appointed in every district and every city and that boys of
the age of six and seven should be enrolled there.

Both the Yerushalmia and Bavli are filled with discussion and ruling regarding schools, synagogues,
pupils , books, duties and wages of teachers, duties of parents to education children, and duties of
pupils towards teachers. Many debates in the Talmudim regulated the practical organization of primary
instruction. One ruling for example established a communal tax to provide for the wages of teachers of
the torah and mishna. Another ruling required that unmarried people with no children who resided in a
town had to pay for the wages of teachers. And a third ruling allowed the community as a whole to fire a
teacher if he did not follow the parents wishes. 126

Baron attributes the increased emphasis on religious education in the edict of Joshua ben Gamla to the
competition between the Sadducees and Pharisees for the following of the Jewish community.127 To
increase the Pharisean leadership and power over the masses of the Jewish community by inculcating
the teaching of both the written and oral law the Pharisees laid the foundation for the primary and

the Essenes. And when I was about 16 years old I had a mind to make a trial of the several sects that were among
us. For I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with their ways. I
returned back to the city, being now 19 years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the
Pharisees. On this journey of Josephus see Baumgarten, A. The Flourishing of Jewish sects in the Maccabean Era,
Leiden: Brill, 1997.
Drazin, Nathan, History of Jewish Education from 515 BCE to 220 CE, Baltimore: JHU Press, 1940
BT. Baba Batra 21a & Yerushalmi Ketubot 8, 12-32c; The gemara in Baba Batra 20b-21a comments, No said
Raba: the concluding words refer to school children, from the time of the regulation fo Joshua ben Gamla. At
length Joshua ben Gamla came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district
and town, and that children should enter school at the age of 6 or seven. Rav said to Rabbi Samuel ben Shilath:
Beforet eh age of 6 do not accept pupils, from that age you can accept them, and stuff them with torah like an
ox. Rava further said: The number of pupils to be assigned to each teacher is twenty-five. If there are fifty we
appoint two teachers. If there are forty we appoint an assistant at the expense of the town.. Raba further said A
teacher of young children, a vine-dresser, a ritual slaughterer, a blood letter, and a town scribe are all liable to be
dismissed immediately if inefficient. The general principle is that anyone who mistakes cannot be rectified is liable
to be dismissed immediately if he makes ones.
Z. Safrai, 1987, 77-78.
Baron, Salo, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, , 2nd ed. 1952, vol. 2, p.274-79; see also Feldman Studies
in Hellenistic Judaism, Leiden: Brill, 1996
secondary school system in Eretz Yisrael. While the vast majority of the Jewish population in the land of
Israel in the 1st two centuries may have been illiterate128 the implementation of Joshua ben Gamlas
edict regarding childrens instruction established a new religious norm. However the Jewish-Roman war,
which broke out within a few years of Joshua ben Gamlas ruling may have made it difficult to
immediately implement the educational reform.

After the Hurban (ca. 70 CE.) Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai did much to recruit eminent scholars to Yavne
which became the center for a Rabbinical academy from 70 CE to 135 CE. According to Avot de Rabbi
Natan, during the siege of Yerushalayim, Johanan ben Zakkai escaped from the city hidden in a coffin to
negotiate with Vespasian. Rabbi Yochanan predicted that he would become emperor. Vespasian granted
Rabbi Yochanan 3 wishes one of which was to reconstitute the Sanhedrin in the town of Yavne and the
second to provide a physician to cure Rabbi Zadok who was starving himself by eating only the juice of
fruits in mourning the destruction of the Beit HaMidash. Rabbi Yochanan urged that prayer be seen to
replace animal sacrifices and that each Jew make their own table like an altar in the beit haMikdash.
Judaism thus became portable for a diaspora wandering nation. While synagogues existed in the land of
Israel before the Hurban they became more important after the Hurban and more synagogues were
built especially in the Galilee where most Jews moved after the two Jewish-Roman wars.129 At an
institutional level the legacy of the Pharisees was to transform into reality the religious norm of Joshua
ben Gamla by making primary education universal in world Jewry. While Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi who set
down of the Mishnah ca. 200 CE represented a Rabbinic elite, the synagogue came to function for
maintain basic normative levels of Jewish knowledge among the lay peoples.

When in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt ca. 135 CE the academy of Yavne was closed the work
of the Tannaim continued and the Galilee hosted numerous Academies as the hub of Jewish learning
which constitutes the intellectual milieu in which Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi compiled the mishna lest it be
forgotten. Rabbi Yehudah was the son of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel II, a descendent of Hillel and thus
King David and Judahs grandfather Rabbi Gamliel II was an Av bet din in Yavne. Gamliel II was
succeeded by his son Simeon who moved the rabbinic academy to the town of Usha and later Shefar
am. Under Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi the Academy moved to Beth Shearim. Later it moved to Sepphoris,
both in the Galilee. Rabbi Yehudah known as Rabbenu ha qodosh, exempted sages from city taxes.130

See: Bar-Ilan, Meir, Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E., in Essays in the Social Scientific
Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, ed. By Simcha Fishbane, Stuart Schoenfeld, and Alain Goldschleger, vol. 2 ,
46-61 Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1992
S., Cohen From the Maccabees to the Mishna, Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1987 & Neusner, Jacob The
Pharisees and other sects, NY: Garland 1990
BT. Baba Batra 8a. This exemption of the learned from taxes created hostility from the am-haratzim.
Oppenheimer has studies the opinions of the sages of the am haratzim. In the time of Rabbi Yehudah the term
designated not just an ignormous as its later connotation but someone who did not tithe (Demai) and disregarded
the laws of ritual purity and the mitzvoth. For Rabbi Yehudah an am ha-aretz was not exactly an ignoramus but
someone hostile to the Rabbinic elite and thus Rabbi Yehudah restricted the am ha-aretz from being elected as a
judge, and marrying daughters to someone of this group was discouraged amongst the Pharisees. See:
Oppenheimer The Am ha-aretz: A study in the Social history of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic Roman Period,
Leiden: Brill , 1977; The hostile attitude of the rabbinic class to the am ha-ratzim is seen in sugyot that insist fathers
not allow their daughters to marry their sons to them, to prevent them from serving as judges, and that advise
Rabbi Yehudah and subsequent generations of scholars implemented a system of organized primary
education in the land of Israel and the diaspora.131 At the beginning of the Jewish childs primary
education in the bet sefer, he was taught the alphabet. Lifelong learning was encouraged by the
Rabbinic ethos so that the studying of Torah and education of Jewish children became one of the
fundamental religious duties of any Jewish adult inculcated by the maxim that: torah, avodah, and
tzedakah redeemed one from sin. The goal of the Pharisees was to equip all Jewish males with the
ability to read and understand the Torah in Hebrew and obey the mitzvoth. Generations of scholars and
rabbis in the academies during the 1st two centuries epitomized the intellectual elitism of Judaism
whose paramount norm was literacy, education, and that learning torah was never too late, and never

F. Beginning Medieval Jewish Education: First Steps in Learning the Alphabet on Shavuot

The question arises how did Jewish children and those beginning their Jewish studies start their
education and what if any texts did children rely on in beginning the learning process. For this question
the following groups must be distinguished: (1) Jewish adults who previously had no Jewish education,
(2) converts to Judaism, and (3) Children raised in a traditional setting. The timing of the beginning
schooling based on German-Jewish texts was Shavuot because the festival is seen as the time when
ancient Israel received the Torah on Mount Sinai.132 The famous Mishnah from P.A. the ages of man
text indicates the ideal course of progression of a beginning students studies:

At age five one begins studying scripture. At ten, Mishnah; at thirteen fulfilling the mitzvoth; at fifteen
studying Talmud; at eighteen entering the bride-chamber; at twenty pursuing a calling; at thirty
authority; at forty discernment; at fifty counsel; at sixty being an elder; at seventy grey hair; at eighty
special strength; at ninety a bowed back; at a hundred a man is one that has already died, passed on,
and departed this world.133

The well-known anecdote about a proselyte who approached the first century sage Hillel indicates how
gerim began their studies. According to this account the ger learned the Hebrew alphabet in different
combinations. Apparently learning the alphabet backwards and forwards required the initiation into
Jewish learning. The Talmudic account reads, on the first day Hillel taught the convert aleph, bet,

avoiding eating or drinking with them, or going into their synagogues. These sugyot indicate that universal literacy
and religious instruction among Jews was a key concern of the rabbinic class. They also suggest that a certain
proportion of Jews did not educate their children for religious literacy probably due to cost.
Safrai, Shmuel, Education and the study of Torah vol, 2, 1976
In the synagogue the fact that the 1st chapter of Ezekiel of the merkavah associated with post-biblical traditions
of the HEkhalot and the 10 commandments are read this made Shavuot propitious and fit for the time to begin a
childs studies because it conjures divine powers from heaven in order to achieve earthly goals. According to sar
ha-torah texts and heikhalot magic on Shavuot Jews who knew how could draw down the power revealed on
Mount Sinai described in Shemot 19:20 as when the time when the L-rd comes down upon Har Sinai. Shavuos thus
is a mazeldik time for special revelation or divine proximity and thus opportune for a child to begin their studies.
Avot 5:21

The Talmudic Tosofists gloss the passage to encourage the study of Talmud at age 6 or seven. See Bava Batra 21a.
gimmel, dalet. On the following day he reversed the letters for him.134 Thus the ger was taught the
alphabet forwards and backwards. 135

Another method of learning the alphabet is illustrated by Rabbi Akivas beginning studies.136 Rabbi Akiva
learned the alphabet by pairing the first and last letter combinations (aleph-tav, bet-shin, etc.) The
rabbis called this method atbash after the pairs aleph-tav and bet-shin and the entire set of letter
pairing became part of an exegetical technique in rabbinic and medieval hermeneutics, as also
illustrated in a number of acrostic patterns in Tehillim. In Medieval Ashkenaz culture a tablet was often
smeared with honey so that the beginning student could taste that the letters he was learning were

Some students also began by referencing the hope by learning the pusek, May it be your will O L-rd our
G-d that Your Torah be our occupation.137 A fathers obligation is to circumcise him, redeem him if a first
born (pidyon ha-ben), and teach him Torah, teach him an occupation, and marry him off.138 The Talmud
reasons that unless one teach a child a trade to support themselves they will be prone to being a charity
case or a thief. However the adult phrase for the hope that Torah be our occupation from the gemara
with reference to Rav Huna later became a kind of catechism some beginning children students were
made to recite, as indicated by the morning prayer for Children.139

G. What was the first Pusek a Child would learn?

See Maseket Shabbat 31a; , : ? : , :
. - , - : .
: . , " ": , - . .
? :! ?
In another version of this anecdote Hillel said to him, How does one know that this is an aleph and this a bet
and this a gimmel? Only because so our ancestors of old handed it down to us that this is an aleph and this bet
and this gimmel. Even as thou hast taken this on good faith, so take the other in good faith i.e. dual oral and
written torah. Rabban Gamliel a descendent of Hillel the Elder replies to Agnitus the hegemon that the Jews have
2 torahs, one in the mouth and one in writing (Sifrei Devarim 33:10, 351, p.145a). Another version (Midrash ha-
Gadol, Deut. P.764) ascribes a similar encounter to Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai the youngest of Hillel the Elders
disciples and Agrippa. In the Pesikta de Rab Kahana (102b) a midrash of the 7th century, Rabbi Yodah interprets
the biblical image of two edged swords (Psalm 149:6) as a metaphor for the 2 aspects of the Torah.
Avot de Rabbi Nathan, A, chapter 6, 28-29; What were the beginnings of R. Akiva? It is said: When he was forty
years of age he had not yet studied a thing He went together with his son and they appeared before an
elementary school teacher. Said R.Akiva to him: Master teach me Torah, R. Akiva took hold of one end of the
writing tablet and his son took hold of the other end of the tablet. The teacher wrote down aleph bet for him and
he learned it; aleph tav, and he learned it; the book of Leviticus and he learned it. He went on studying until he
learned the whole Torah.
See B. Berakhot 16b; Another version is found in a different adult context: It was taught: If scholars are busy
studying they must interrupt their study to recite the Shema, but not to recite the prayer . R. Johanan said This
was taught only of someone like R. Shimon bar Yohai and his colleagues, whose study was their occupation, but we
must interrupt our study for both the shema and the prayer. (B. Shabbat 11a).
Kiddushin 29a
See Birnbaum Daily Prayer book, 1-2; the word omanuti (my occupation) was sometimes changed to emunati
(my faith).
The question arises what was the first pusek a child learned? R. Hamnuna names the pusek from
Devarim 33:4 When Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob as
the first lesson a father taught his son.140 Another Babylonian tradition elaborates the pedagogic
function of this verse: Rabbis said to R. Hamnuna R. Ami wrote 400 torah scrolls. He said to them:
Perhaps he wrote 400 times. When Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the
congregation of Yakov.141 Besides the opinion of R. Hamnuna, another source refers to Deut. 33:4 as a
text young school children learned as found in Midrash Vayiqra Rabbah.142

Well known is also that the first complete portion of the Humash children began learning is Vayikra.
Because Leviticus deals with pure sacrifices and children are pure the reasoning is that children should
start with Vayikra.143 Also a ger who has converted to Judaism is likened to a newborn child.144 Thus of
the well-known story of Hillel and the ger we learn first Hillel wrote out the alphabet for him and
taught it to him. Then Hillel taught him Leviticus. It should not come as a surprise then that the earliest
preserved Hebrew alphabet primers from the Cairo Geniza reflect this. Several pages include outlines of
the alphabet written forwards and backwards, in the first last combinations and with opening verses
from Leviticus.145

Responsa from the Geonic times mention teachers taught children in both towns and villages.146 Other
response from this time point out that together with rabbis, judges, and heads of synagogues, teachers
were among the community officials listed at the end of several letters of herem that the geonim sent
out to the many communities of the world. Teachers were also listed as synagogue officials, together
with scholars, elders, administrators (parnasim), cantors (hazanim), and caretakers (shammashim).147


Primary education was standard in the Jewish communities of the Middle East as revealed by
documents from the Cairo Geniza. Goitein writes, Knowledge of Hebrew was nearly universal among
Jewish males, at least at the minimal level of the ability to read the Bible, which formed the core of the
Jewish primary education. 148 As well as the Cairo Geniza the Gaonic Responsa shed light on Jewish

B. Sukkah 42a. See Sifre on Devarim, Eiqev 11, sec. 46; Rabbenu Tam (d. 1171) noted that verse is called torah,
as we learn in chapter three of Maseket Sukkah: When a minor knows how to speak, his father must teach him
Torah (Tosafot to B. Bab Batra 14a)
B. Bava Batra 14a
He replied to him: It is as the children say: When Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the
congregation of Yakov. It does not say the congregation of Yannai but the congregation of Yakov. That is the torah
belongs to all Jews, not just to R. Yannai.
See Midrash Vayyikra Rabbah 7:3: R. Isi said, Why do children begin their study of the Torah with Leviticus?
They should start with Genesis! The Holy one blessed be He, said Since sacrifices are pure and children are pure,
let the pure begin by studying the law about purities.; The Beit HaMikdash was the place where the Levites
transmitted sacred knowledge in biblical times and some scholars thus have suggested that into Hellenistic era,
only Levites taught their children to read the Torah. (see Finkelstein, Mavo Le-Masekhtot Avot, 108).
Yevamot 22a and B. Bekhorto 47a.
See: Assaf, Meqorot 4:16 (no. 21) from the Cairo Geniza
Assaf, 2002-2006, vol. 2, p.11-27.
Levine, The Ancient Synagogue, Yale Univ Press, 2005, 412-52
Goitein, S.D., A Mediterranean Society, 5 vols, 1967-88, vol. 2, p.171-183
medieval education. Responsa refer to schools, teachers, and their salaries, pupils, books, teachers and
tutors being appointed to small towns , and that Jewish children in synagogues learn Hebrew and Arabic
script, as well as arithmetic.149 Other responsa mention that non-Jewish families were interested in
sending their children to synagogues to learn non-religious topics.150 Many letters and court records
attest to the centrality of education in Jewish life for example a women from a family tried to prove in a
trial that her husband did not have the rights of a husband because he did not pay for the education of
his children (she paid herself). In a settlement a women confirmed that she had paid expenses
associated with food, drink, clothing, and living quarters, and education of their three children. A letter
by a Jewish man, notes that the knowledge we acquire as children is the only thing that make others
respect us. The teacher should be respected and the children should be sent to school in the
synagogue every morning and every evening.151 This teacher responded this way because he received a
complaint from a parent that he assigned too much homework. Further in a business letter a Jewish
merchant advises his correspondent to make sure that his son does not interrupt his studies; if the need
arises the friend was asked to advance the school fees. Many letters attest that fathers traveling abroad
give instructions to their wives or other relatives regarding the proper education of their children. One
Jewish merchant criticizes his wife for letting the children skip school and play in the streets . In the
same letter he sends his brother 15 dirhams for his childrens teacher and a fine piece of clothing for his
son, to encourage him to attend the bet sefer . 152 The records from the Geniza also attest that the
Jewish community made great efforts to provide education for orphans and the children of the poor.
Each household in addition to school fees for their own children, had to pay an education tax to finance
the primary education of orphans and poor children. Records from Fustat, Jerusalem, Damascus, and
Baghdad mention teachers of the orphans supported by this communal tax. 153 Every head of
household who resided for over 12 months had to pay this tax to finance the schooling of the poor. This
document from the Geniza also provides evidence of expenditures from individual households for their
own children.154

Account of the teaching of children in Torah School of R. Nisim son of Ibrahim the community leader
from Shabat Bereshit until Shabat Va-Yoshea- 16 weeks, 8 dirhams

Son of the carpenter, called Chayoun the Mugrabi for 4 months 8 dirhams

Goitein, S.D., A Mediterranean Society, 5 vols, 1967-88, vol.2 177; a letter from Halfon b. Manasse ha-Levi
(1100-39) found the Cairo Geniza confirms the study of mathematics, whereby Halfon agreed to instruct a
widows son in Arabic calligraphy and arithmetic.
Assaf, A sourcebook for the History of Jewish Education from the beginning of the Middle ages to the period of
the Haskalah, with added comments and supplements edited by Shmuel Glick, 5 vols, NY: JTSA, 2002-6, vol.2,
p.27;Rabbi Hai the head of the academy in Pumbedita in the 10th to early 11th centuries notes that children may
study Arabic script and arithmetic as an addition to the study of the torah. But without the teaching of Torah, one
should not teach these and that one should avoid as far as possible teaching the children of gentiles in the
synagogues; but if there is fear it may cause outrage then it should be permitted, so as to keep the peace.
Goitein, 1962, p.34-35; 1967-88, vol. 2, p.174
Goitein, 1962,p.34-35; 1967-88, vol.2, p.174
Goitein, 1967-88, vo.2., p.174-93
Goitein, 1962, p.40; see also Mark Cohen, in Poverty and Charity in the Middle Eastern Contexts edited by
Michael Bonner, Mone Ener, and Amy singer, 53-72, Albany: SUNY Press, 2003
Three sons of Calaf from the town fo Almachla for 12 weeks. 15 dirhams

Chayoun the Magrabi the orphan from the month of av until the end of Shabbbat Va-Yoshea- 5
months 10.5 dirhams

Sons of the shoemakers wife and a little boy of R. Yehosua, for 10 weeks ending with Shabat
VaYoshea- 15 dirhams

Son of Mechsan the Shamash and the son of Baha the shomer Kashruth supervisor for 12 weeks
ending at the same time.. 12 dirhams.

It is further interesting to note that in this Geniza document the community paid for the school tuition
of the shomer and the community leader. The accomplishments of a teacher often reached teaching
the child to recite the Targum of Onkelos as noted in a letter from Cairo to a merchant on trip to India,
Your boy Faraj now reads the Targum accompanying the lections- as I guaranteed you he would.155

While most children were sent to the synagogue school for primary education the wealthy tutored their
children at home. 156 The documents from the Cairo Geniza reveal childrens primers showing that
children were taught to read by being taught letters, together with other symbols used in Hebrew and
their various combinations. Teachers also employed drawing large calligraphic outlines of letters, which
the children filled in with colors such as red and brown.157 The Geniza also accounts for several teachers
who were women.158 The varying ranks of primary school teachers included melamedei tinoket
(teachers of young children), talmidim (scholars), and haverim (accredited learned men). Haverim were
at the top of the educational payscale according to the Geniza.159 The spiritual leader of the community
was called Dayan (judge).

After attending primary school where a boy acquired basic literacy in Hebrew and Arabic the ability to
read and study the Torah in Hebrew, and some arithmetic skills, a Jewish boy was supposed to learn a
craft or trade as indicated by Talmudic Tractate Kiddushin19a which also specifies that a father pay for
their childrens education. Those few students who were exceptionally bright went on to the rabbinic
academies where the language of study was Aramaic. Yet all Jews were enjoined to learn lifelong as
indicated by a letter from the 11th century in the Geniza which states, Just as the body needs food, so
the soul needs learning. Therefore part of a mans time should be dedicated to learning, meaning in the
free time, Sabbath and Holidays. 160 Schepping Nachas had its equivalent In the Sephardic world of

Goitein, S.D. 1967-88, vol. 2, p. 175.
Goitein, S.D., 1967-88, vol.2, p. 177.
Goitein, S.D., 1967-88, vol.2, 178
Goitein, S.D., 1962, p.64.
Goitein, 1967-88, vol.2, p. 185-90.
Goitein, 1962, p.129; This seems to be an extrapolation of a sugya in Baba Batra that one should divide their
days into threes: the study of Mikra, Mishnah, and Gemarah.
Arabic and Hebrew where one letter from a Tunisia Jew notes, You wrote that you had gone over the
Bible a second time and knew it, and furthermore that you study mishna and the Talmud. You made me
extremely happy. 161 Learning was the injunction upon all not just the rabbis in the academies and
Goitein shows in detail the educational process of scholars, judges, preachers, cantors, other religious
functionaries, scribes, copiers, physicians, druggists, pharmacists, perfumers, preparers of potions, and
so on. 162

In the course of Jewish history, after the Hurban, where the great majority of Jews transformed their
occupations from a land based farm economy in Eretz Yisrael where the Beit Hamikdash was the center
of Jewish religion and Levitical priestly focus, to a diaspora mobile economy comprised of money lenders
(finance), traders who could draw on converting currencies in different languages, and physicians (who
were required to be literate in reading the works of medieval health texts), the economic investment on
literacy provided good returns in making Jewish religiosity portable to distant diaspora lands, essentially
keeping Judaism alive in the diaspora. Physical versus portable human capital included literacy being
mobile and Jews tended to go into professions that were not only open to Jews as medieval Charters
excluded Jews from fields such as government bureaucracy so that literacy gave Jews a competitive
advantage in crafts, trade, banking, finance, law, and medicine whereby the transition from a farming
economy tide to Eretz Yisrael to an urban skilled occupation occurred over history of Jews in the
diaspora. Thus the side effect of the purpose of investing in literacy and Jewish education ensured
Jewish continuity in the diaspora and was a part of the Rabbinic ethos placed on building the
foundations for later Rabbinic elite learning, it also played into the diaspora trends of making Jews
mobile and urban.

Jews invested in learning and intellectual capital rather than often building Cathedral like structures and
with the prohibition on graven images (lo oseh likhah pesel) the emphasis was on literacy so art did
not play the kind of role it plays in Christianity to teach the alogos Bible stories by viewing paintings,
stained glass windows, and statues. Literacy and memorized knowledge that is internalized is portable
like movable capital (mitaltelein) and thus the Jews could transport their education from their
wanderings in the diaspora. Exogenous factors such as restrictions in medieval charters, discrimination
as dhimis or paying additional Jew taxes, persecution such as pogroms and Crusades, and massacres
ensured literacy, learning and education that was mobile. The demonstration of the prohibition of
writing down oral torah based on Gittin 60a and Temurah 14b and a host of other factors may explain
why from besides the Cairo Geniza the existence of medieval libraries is relatively scarce and it further
allows us to show the medieval Jewish pedagogic curriculum based on the ethos to make every Jewish
child literate derived from the takkana of Joshua ben Gamla nearly 2000 years ago and reiterated in
various Rabbinic texts emphasizing universal Jewish literacy and education. By raising the question of
reconstructing medieval Jewish libraries we thus show a basic underpinning element of their existence,
the medieval Jewish Rabbinic ethos for the elementary curriculum.

Goitein, 1967-88, vol. 2 p.192-95.
Goitein, 1967-88, vol. 2, p.171-262.
Part IV. THE CAIRO GENIZA: Containing Not only Azharot texts and many other genres of Discarded
TEXTS, not mere library discards but a treasure trove of Knowledge about the Medieval
Mediterranean Society and its Culture

The Cairo Geniza is a most important source for our knowledge of early texts. Nehemya Allony studied
_Book Lists from the Cairo Genizah in a publication in Hebrew from the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of
Jewish Communities in the East (Jerusalem, 2006) edited by Miriam Frenkel and Haggai Ben-Shammai
with participation by Moshe Sokolow under the project director of M. Ben Sasson and S. Shaked and
others. Geniza research is immense since the time Solomon Schechter excavated the geniza of the
Cairo Fostat synagogue where Maimonides served as a rabbi with over 800 hits in RAMBI of papers on
the subject. Geniza scholarship can be characterized however by methodologies and approaches. For
instance Davidson looked at liturgical (piyyutim) and poetry from the Geniza, while Goitein in his
multivolume set _The Mediterranean society_ and _Letters from the Geniza_ that focused mostly on
trade and legal documents. Geniza scholars such as Rabinowitz, Schechter, and many others looked at
halakhic/legal texts from the Geniza. Schechter also gave Louis Ginzberg a text which Ginzberg published
under the title _Ein Unbekannte Juedische Secte_ which is in fact a kind of paraphrase of _The
Damascus Document_ which my teacher Rabbi Joseph Baumgarten published and edited with notes
and critical apparatus, after being given an early facsimile from the coterie of Catholic scholars, given
from the Polish clergyman Millik via Albright, from the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls with Cambridge
University Studies in the Judean Desert. More recently Mark Cohen with an ethical social conscience has
looked at the status of the vulnerable in Jewish society such as widows, poor, orphans, divorced women,
etc. from texts in the Geniza published in a 2 vol. set Poverty and charity in the Jewish community of
medieval Egypt. Thus the Geniza has been approached with many methodologies and types of
approaches. The Librarian Stefen Reif is the head of the Cambridge-Taylor Research unit that is
digitizing some of the treasures from the Geniza at:

A. Scholars of the Genizah might be described under these rubrics

(1) Solomon Schechter- excavator brought materials back to Cambridge, JTS, and Dropsie

(2) Louis Ginzberg: Yerushalmi Fragments, Geonica, Eine unbekannte j dische Sekte. [Zadokite Text of
DSS] (halakhic texts)

(3) Israel Davidson: Geniza poetry including Yannai

(4) Zulay
(5) Schirmann- published in 1938 a biography of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy; _Hebrew Poetry from Spain
and Provence_ (1956) and 1965 collection of some 250 previously unpublished Geniza poems, and did
much research on documentary archival geniza documents relating to poet Dunash ben Labrat including
some of his prose. Schirmann founded the Israel National Academy of Geniza Research for Hebrew
Poetry in 1967. The Institutes extensive index of meters, refrains, genres, opening lines, rhyme schemes,
stanzaic structures, and scriptural citations all cross- referenced was an attempt to map the genetic
identity of 90 thousand poems. Schirmann was given an excellent education by his father and from the
age of 12 was interested in Andalasian Hebrew medieval poetry and went on to work as a researcher
going between the Israel based Schocken Institute (first in Berlin and relocated to Rehavia, Jerusalem)
and Cambridge. In 1930 Schirmann wrote of his research at Cambridge, I came across heaps of
important ms. some containing unknown poems by well-known writers, or work by their
contemporaries to whom fortune had been less than kind and whose compositions had fallen into the
abyss. Every evening , as I looked back over the days work, Id dream of the discoveries that awaited me
the following day.163 Schirmann was also an excellent violinist. When his apartment in Tel Aviv burned
down Schirmann miraculously escaped from the top floor roof clutching his precious violin as his most
prized instrument. Schirmann was lowered by a rope while holding his violin. In Schirmanns passing on
in 1981 a 2 volume book on the history of all five hundred years of Spanish medieval poetry was found,
although Schirmann is buried in Paris. Schirmann was well aware that Spain in the golden middle ages of
the Jewish renaissance provided a treasure trove of literary interest. In 900 CE in Cordoba for instance
there was a population of nearly million people with thousands of shops and many libraries (the one
of the caliph alone contained 400,000 volumes) and it belonged to a trading network that connected
Constantinople, Alexandria, Baghdad, and Damascus with India and China.164 This cultural renaissance
provided fertile findings for Schirmann and his collogues at the Institute for Geniza Medieval Spanish

(6) Robert Brody

(7) Ezra Fleischer- Headed Institute of Geniza medieval poetry after Schirmann and among his many
extraordinary contributions discovered a poem by the wife of Dunash ben Labrats wife which told of
the couples painful separation: Will her love remember his graceful doe/ her only son in her arms as he
parted?/ On her left hand he placed a ring from his right/ on his wrist she placed her bracelet/ as a
keepsake she took his mantle from him,/ and he in turn took hers from her/ would he settle now in the
land of Spain/ if its prince gave him half his kingdom?165 While Schirmann focused on secular poetry
Fleischer focused for the most part on liturgical poetry and looked to the east, (Palestine and Iraq) for
keys to the Spanish accomplishment. Fleischer discovered poems of Yosef ibn Avitor and Menahem ben
Saruk. In the final lecture Fleischer ever gave a year before passing on at age 78 Fleischer considered
the accomplishment of excavating the Geniza by declaring, The study of the Geniza has given us not so

Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
p. 172.
Botticini, Maristella and Eckstein, Zvi, The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492,
Princeton Univ. 2012, p.36.
Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
much a quantitative increase in knowledge although that has been immense; and not just a
qualitative advance that surpasses expectation although that has been astonishing; and not merely an
influx dizzying as that has been of dates and names, of hues and lights and voices. The recovery of the
Geniza has meant rather, the spectacular completion of a breath-taking landscape, the perfect
harmonious and inevitable unity of which all of a sudden seems revealed.166 Fleischer referred to his
work of discovering 10s of thousands of hitherto unknown poems by hundreds of unknown poets that
were, as suddenly with the Genizas discovery released like spirits or ghosts through the square
opening of that sealed room at the end of the womens gallery of the Ben Ezra synagogue (191). Today
the Ezra Fleischer Geniza Research Institute for Hebrew poetry is located in a maze-like back hallway of
the National Library where scholars work in windowless rooms surrounded by tin shelves crowded with
files, under framed, black and white portraits of Schirmann, Zulay, Fleischer, Goitein, Leopold Zunz, and
Shalom Spiegel and others.

(8) Jacob Mann: doc. Evidence- letters, contracts, court records on communal life167

(9) S.D. Goitein: A Mediterranean society : the Jewish communities of the Arab world as portrayed in the
documents of the Cairo Geniza (trade, accounts, etc.). Goiteins enthusiasm in excavating the virgin
genizah fragments that Schechter considered less important is described when he wrote, I never
imagined that Id have news and discoveries this time, But yesterday the head of the library, Creswick
(prounced resick) together with the head of the oriental department, Miss Silliter, took me to the 7th
floor, under the roof- I was amazed to find that the attic of this magnificent building is just like ours-
pipes and water tanks (and the tanks were exposed) and what do I see? Actual crates, as they were
sent from Egypt in 1897 Schecther deposited here what he though no longer of any value, but not a
quarter hour had passed before I pulled out a piece of a large letter (60 lines) thats among the very
best I have about travel to India- along with another 3 documents. The librarian. Was clearly excited
and ordered the crate to be taken down to a special room so that we could examine it ( mean me with
the help of Ms. Skilliter) and so this morning, even though it was Saturday and a holiday (Simchat
Torah), I decided to celebrate the Sabbath by rummaging around in a virgin geniza, really like

Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
Mann attempted to chart the Jewish life across the heart of an empire and had gone through the whole
Cambridge collection wearing a homemade gas mask to protect himself from the fumes. He also scoured the
holding of the Bodleian and British museum collections. Yet Mann noted that no claim was put forward of having
exhausted all the available materials. His book was presented in an attempt to reconstruct the life of Jewries of
Egypt and Palestine from the beginning of the Fatimid reign in Egypt (969 CE) till about the time of Maimonides
(1134-1204). Mann brought to light hundreds of new transcriptions of Hebrew fragments of communal appeals,
elegies for public figures, formal epistles, letters to and from religious leaders never before published. Manns
book in Goiteins words reclaimed pre-Crusader Palestine for Jewish history. Manns book, _The Jewish in Egypt
and in Palestine_ was a treasure trove of historical details. Gotein referred to the book as a string of pearls held
together by a chronological and associatiative sequence.
Schechter in his day, and I stood there all morning long, taking things out and sorting them168
Gottein thus recognized treasure where others had saw trash. Before Goitein scholars of Geniza
materials had almost always focused their energies on major trends in Jewish pietism. What mattered
were liturgical fragments, pages of Talmud and midrash, rabbinical rulings, and documents relating to
important political and religious developments, to the lives and leanings of medieval Jewish communal
leaders. Dramatic discoveries like the Ben Sira fragments, the piyutim of Yannai, and the Damascus
Document commanded the academic and popular interest in the Genizah during the first half of the 20th
century.169 Carlyle has stated that The history of the world is but the biography of great men and their
accomplishments. Goitein as did later Salo Baron however turned the historians attention to the
mundane, daily, ordinary, to derive insight into the social and religious history of the Jewish people.
George Elliot in her novel Middlemarch expressed this as not the focus on men and their battles and
monuments of triumph but rather social history is interested in the quitidien, repetitive, little details of
daily living and what that can shed light on the human condition. A Balzac novel contains microscopic
details of its subject and so too the Genizah in Goiteins mind could reveal great insight about the daily
details of medieval Mediterranean society and the lives of the people who constituted that time and
place. For Goitein striving for historical truth mean descent into millions of discrete particulars in the
grittiest minutiae of daily life and language and their eventual reconstruction in a larger frame. Goitein
referred to himself as an interpretive sociographer who describes a culture by means of its texts. This
approach contrasted with Salo Baron who painted with a broad brush stroke. Baron looked at
overarching grand demographic, economic, and communal themes that emerged slowly, almost
geologically over centuries. Goitein with pick axe in hand immersed himself in the millions of fragments
of the historical geological record as so many splinters of rocks and fossils from which he reconstructed
the dinosaurs of the period under study. Gotein was a tireless researcher. By 1954 with the publication of
his preliminary report on the subject, he had already surveyed all the known documentary contents of
eleven Geniza collections on four continents; hed copied the contents of hundreds of fragments by hand
and begun the laborious process of deciphering, translating, and annotating them. He even composed a
lexicon of the nomenclature of trade that spoke to the particular language of mercantilism that supplied
him with much of his sources. Goitein also championed bringing to light the women Wuhsha the
pawnbroker who turns out more than any other woman in the papers once held by the Ben Ezra
Synagogue. 170

Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
Known in the documents by her nickname- which Goitein translates as desiree or object of yearning
through the three letter Arabic root also implies wild one- Wuhsha (whose real name was Karima, the daughter
of Ammar) was a rich 11th century divorcee with a flourishing business as a sort of private pawnbroker. Shee also
had a Jewish lover by the name of Hassun and bore him a son out of wedlock. One document tells of her son Sad
who wanted to prove he was not the product of an incestuous relationship and witnesses were summoned to
attest to his paternity. Another document attests to Wuhsha being kicked out of a synagogue where she came to
pray on Yom Kippur but she got the last laugh as she left in her will assets to all the synagogues of Cairo except the
one from which she was kicked out. In her will she also named a teacher to teach her son about the Bible and
prayer book to the degree that it is appropriate that he should know them. She set aside funds for the teachers
Of greatest fascination and passion to Goitein was his research however into Rambam171 and Rambams
son, Rabbi Abraham Maimonides. Abrahams overworked schedule and bureaucratic demands in fact
Hoffman and Cole see reflected in Goiteins own life.172 However where Rabbi Avraham Maimonides
tended towards the ethical and ascetic life, promoting friendships with Jewish Sufis who fasted, wore
wool, and retreated to solitude for contemplation, Goitein was very much a man in the world and a part
of the world. Perhaps his microscopic immersion in the nitty gritty of the Geniza by lifting up the detritus
of the jetsam of the quotidian as his all-consuming life work, reflects this rejection of asceticism and
focus on the practical and being very much in the world. While ascetic companions of Abraham
Maimonides lived in the world they did not make their essence of the world, while Goitein did. Goitein
was driven by a philological passion in the challenge of brining order to histories detritus. For other
scholars this reconstruction of the Mediterranean society of Cairo fostat and the surrounding culture
took on almost a mystical sense of resurrection, although not that type of mysticism of which the Jewish
Sufis with whom Abraham Maimonides looked up towards as exemplary. While many Geniza exemplars
testify to the son of Maimonides, of texts relating to Maimonides himself there are more than 60
fragments in the philosophers own handwriting, including marked up draft copies of his famous
Mishneh Torah. As both Maimonides and his son were physicians also the Geniza provides the equivalent
of 173an entire Medieval Physicians Desk Reference, describing in precise detail the cause, diagnosis,
and treatment of diseases; the preparation of a Mediterranean medicine chest of potions, pills, pastes,
ointments, lotions,a nd gargles; and event he social and ethical aspects of the medical profession.

salary ordering that he be given a blanket and sleeping carpet so he can stay with the boy. Another woman
celebrated in the Geniza is from a Yiddish text consisting of letters from a 16th Century Jerusalemite named Rachel
Zussman. Zussman wrote to her grown businessman son Moshe in Cairo. Among the earliest examples of Yiddish
letter writing and part of a much larger correspondence, they tell of the once well off but now struggling Prague
born womans complicated relationship with her only child. She urges her son to watch his money, keep up with
his studies, complains he has not written to her enough, he should move back to Jerusalem where she can see him,
, and even offers by urging him to send her his worn and dirty shirts to wash, etc. She writes, God will help me
and all the people of Israel in the future Dont worry my son, I always ask god that you not be sick and that I
suffer in your stead. And I also ask that HE not let me die before I see your face again and you lay your hands over
my eyes. Dont worry my son but dont come now. [The situation she explains is not good]. Dont worry my son, if
I died I would not have a sheet to be brought down from my bed in and I dont have e a cover for my head. If you
can, buy me one cheaply. Come back to the holy city. See: Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The
Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011, 213 & 237.
The geniza reveals that Maimondies was constantly revising his commentary on the Mishnah from its initiation
unti the end of his life. This is evident not only from the drafts preserved in the Geniza and from many
cancellations, alterations, and additions in his own fair copy of the work but also from the fact that Rambam
himself explicity corrected and changed in his responsa his own already circulated text. Maimondes was aware of
the problem of authorized versions as it attested by his inscription and signature at the end of a copy of part of his
MT. copied in his lifetime (1134-1205) and now preserved at the Bodleian library. Maimonides confirms that the
manuscript was corrected according to his own personal copy. This the only surving example of a Hebrew
manuscript of the practice known in Arabic transmission as ijaza, the validation by the author of a final version,
which was then recopied by later scribes following the authors approval or hashkamah.
Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken,
Hoffman, Adina, and Cole Peter, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Schocken, 2011,
p. 234.
Gottein has made clear that the documents of the Cairo Geniza cover not only the profession of
medicine but about 450 occupations related to commerce and banking, crafts, and teaching including
scribes and rabbis. 174 Goittein argues that knowledge of Hebrew was universal among males at least at
the minimal level of ability to read the Bible, the core of Jewish education.175 Responsa from the geniza
refer to schools, teachers and their salaries, pupils, and books. Some letters refer to teachers and tutors
being appointed in small towns and villages. Some responsa indicate that Jewish children in synagogues
learned Hebrew and Arabic script as well as arithmetic.176 Other response mention that non-Jewish
families were interested in sending their children to synagogues to learn nonreligious topics.177 The
Geniza also includes a wealth of information confirming the primary education among Jewish children
including documents such as budgets, letters, contracts with reference to teachers and fees.178 One
document from the Geniza entails a Jewish merchant who complains about his wife who let the children
miss school and play in the streets. In the same letter he sends his brother 15 dirhams for his childrens
teacher and a fine piece of clothing for his son, to encourage him to attend school where the father is
paying tuition.179 The groups of melamedei tinokot (teachers of young children), talmidim (scholars),
and haverim (accredited learned men) made up the teachers of elementary school children.180 Geniza
documents also testify to A communal tax also gathered funds from the communities of Fustat,
Jerusalem, Damascus, and Baghdad to pay for the schooling of orphans and the poor.181 Every
household head who had resided for 12 months in a given location had to pay an education tax to
finance the schooling of orphans and poor children. This document from the Geniza provides evidence
of household expenditures for their own children and that of orphans and poor children in the Jewish
community.182 More than Goittein it would be his student M.R. Cohen who examined systematically
documents regarding the vulnerable from the Geniza, such as widows, orphans and the poor.

(10) Marc Cohen: Voice of the Poor in the M.A. Under the auspices of the Princeton Geniza Project one
of Goiteins leading students Cohen has since the mid- 1980s supervised able students to transcribe and
create a large searchable database of the Genizas historical documents in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew.

Goittein, 1967-88, vol. 1.
Goittein 1967-88, vol. 2, 177; For example in a letter written by a wealthy Jewish trader and scholar Halfon b.
Manasse ha-Levy (1100-39) a widow contracts the merchant to instruct her son in Arabic calligraphy and
arithmetic. For successful teaching the instructors remuneration would be 2 dinars.
Goittein, 1967-88, vol. 2 177.
Assaf, Simcha, A sourcebook for the History of Jewish Education from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to the
Period of the Haskalah, with added comments and supplements edited by Shmuel Glick, 5 vols. NY: JTSA 2002-6,
vol. 2 p.27; Rabbi Hai the head of the academy in Pumbedita in the late 10h to 11th century notes that children may
study Arabic script and arithmetic as an addition to the study of the Torah. But without the teaching of torah one
should not teach these and that one should avoid as far as possible the teaching of children of gentiles in
synagogues; but if there is a fear it may cause outrage, then it should be permitted so as to keep the peace.
Goittein 1962; In addition to living expenses and the head tax, education took up the major portion fo the
family budgets found in the Cairo Geniza.
Goittein, 1962, p. 34-35; 1967-88 vol. 2 p. 174.
Goittein, 1967-88, vol.2, p.185-90
Goittein, 1967-88, vol 2, p. 174-93.
Goittein, 1962, p. 40; M.R. Cohen, The foreign Jewish Poor in Medieval Egypt in Poverty and Charity in the
Middle Eastern Contexts, edited by Michal Bonner, Mone Ener, and Amy Singer, 53-72. SUNY Press, 2003.
Known as the TextGarden, the database currently includes some 400 thousand fragments, , nearly a
quarter of the Genizas documentary nonliterary materials.

(11) Stephen Reif: liturgical aspects & much more. Reif has advanced the organization of Schechters
original finds far beyond the black binders on rows and rows of shelves a few aisles down from the
Charles Darwin papers in the closed stacks of the University library. The Taylor-Schechter collection
constitutes 70% of the worlds Geniza stash. Besides what Schechter carted back it includes purchases
from Wertheimer, Chester, Henriques, and others. It was Reif who in 1973 began systematic
examination . An energetic Scottish Jewish scholar and bibliographer Reif laid out an ambitious 10 year
plan to bring order to the jumbled mess by conserving, cataloging, microfilming, and creating a
bibliography for the collection in its entirety. Beyond Cambridge, Geniza fragments are held physically in
private storerooms from the JTSA in NY to the Bodleian at Oxford. 75 collections have been counted.

(12) Other Geniza Scholars: Alexander Marx, Henry Malter, S.L. Skoss, Benzion Halper, Richard Gottheil,
Moshe Zucker, Shalom Spiegel, Norman Golb, Norman Stillman, Shamma & Mordecai Friedman, Elazar
Hurvitz, Neil Danzig. Recently Botticini and Eckstein in their book _Chosen Few: How Education Shaped
Jewish history, 70-1492_ have noted the importance of landowning deeds in the geniza and how this
reflects on the economic and demographic trends in Jewish history.183

(13) Albert Friedberg a kind of latter day Salman Schocken has financed a massive project make all
Geniza fragments available online. Carried out by a staff of mostly young ultra-orthodox women on the
14th floor of an unprepossessing office building surrounded by shwarma stands in Jerusalem. With an
international team of scholars the cyberwizard behind the Friedberg site is Yaacov Choueka. Choueka is
revolutionizing the study of the Geniza. As planned when the project is complete photographed images
of hundreds of thousands of the Fustat ms. the recto and verso of 331,351 folios from the Ben Ezra
cache- will be available at the click of a mouse on the Friedberg website, along with half a million items
of data about these ms., compiled over the course of the previous century. It adopts stat eof the art
face-recognition technology to the medieval context. And the Friedenberg programmers have made
possible the mechanical identification of candidates for joins the reunion of long separated parts of
torn ms. As well as fragments from the same scribe.

B. Solomon Schechters Excitement on Excavating the Geniza and His Sense of Humor

Botticini, Maristella and Eckstein, Zvi, The Chosen Few, Princeton University Press: NJ, 2012, 57; Many
documents from the Cairo Geniza (including thousands of contracts, letters, business partnerships, account books,
deeds, and wills) and the rabbinic respona (comprising debates and court cases) refer to the sale and purchase of
land and other transactions involving landholdings. This wealth of evidence shows that landownership was not just
a legal option but also a reality for the Jews living in vast territory under Muslim rule. The right of Jews to own land
and the actual ownership of land by Jews however did not halt the occupational transition that in less than 2
centuries transformed the Jews of the Middle East from a population of farmers, like the rest of the population to
an urban population of craftsman, brokers, moneylenders, court bankers, and physicians.
Schechter displays a good bit of humor with regards to his excavation of the genizah when remarking

One can hardly realize the confusion in a genuine, old Genizah until one has seen it. It is a battlefield
of books, and the literary productions of many centuries had their share in the battle, and their
disjecta membra are now strewn over its area. Some of the belligerents have perished outright, and
are literally ground to dust in the terrible struggle for space, whilst others, as if overtaken by a general
crush, are squeezed into big, unshapely lumps, which even with the aid of chemical appliances can no
longer be separated without serious damage to their constituents. In their present condition these
lumps sometimes afford curiously suggestive combinations; as, for instance, when you find a piece of
some rational work, in which the very existence of either angels or devils is denied, clinging for its very
life to an amulet in which these same beings (mostly the latter) are bound over to be on their good
behavior and not interfere with Miss Jairs love for somebody. The development of the romance is
obscured by the fact that the last lines of the amulet are mounted on some I.O.U., or lease, and this in
turn is squeezed between the sheets of an old moralist, who treats all attention to money affairs with
scorn and indignation. Again, all these contradictory matters cleave tightly to some sheets from a very
old bible. This, indeed, ought to be the last umpire between them, but it is hardly legible without
peeling off from its surface the fragments of some printed work, which clings to old nobility with all
the obstinacy and obstructiveness of the Parvenu.

Solomon Schechter, Description of Original State and contents of the Geniza is given with humor. It also
ponders the accident of fate whereby a sacred text could become over time nestled next to a love letter.
Once in England with the task of sorting Accounts have it that Schecther had around him a great many
grocery boxes, labeled Philosophy, Rabbinic, theology, Literature, History, Bible, Talmud
etc. and with his magnifying glasses he would study each little ragged piece, and then put it into its
proper box with so much alertness that it was almost like a housewife counting different articles of
laundry.184 Schecther was very protective of his unique find and in a letter to librarian Francis Jenkinson
before sending the hoard of fragments back to Cambridge Schechter wrote:

The MSS will probably belong soon to your library. I want only to hear first whether you and the syndics
will agree to certain conditions which I have to make. Money plays no important part in these conditions
and I am sure you will find them very fair and just. But till then I want the MSS to be considered as my
private property so that the boxes must not be opened before I have returned . For I am very anxious to
be the first to examine them properly . If you cannot agree to these conditions (sic) will you do e the
favor to send at once- when the boxes arrive for Mrs. Schecther (2 Rock Road) and hand her over the
boxes who will bring them into some place of safety until I return. Please G-d. 185

Sacred Trash: the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Hoffman, Adina, & Cole, Peter, Schocken: NY,
2011, p. 84
Sacred Trash: the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Hoffman, Adina, & Cole, Peter, Schocken: NY,
2011, p.74
Once returned to England and with some time to examine the geniza materials Schecther wrote a PR
piece to announce the importance of their finding in the Times under the title, A hoard of Hebrew
Manuscripts which explained the cache and its history for the general reader, and Jenkinson read the
proofs then helped Schecther compose a reply when the day after Schechters article appeared on Aug.
3, and anonymous reader wrote the following letter to the editor:

In his interesting description of the ancient Geniza in Cairo Mr. Schechter omits to mention that the
honor of the discovery of this treasure belongs truly to the learned librarian of the Bodleian, Dr. A
Neubauer, who was the first to light upon it and to obtain a large number of important fragments for
that library. He has published already some six years ago, a few of these documents and has placed
others at the disposal of scholars. The other who went to that hiding place of the ancient synagogue
in Cairo was Mr. Elkan N. Adler who not only brought last year very valuable MSS from there, but
practically gave the key to it to Mr. Schechter. In apportioning the honors of the discovery we must be
just and fair. 186

The letter was signed Suum Cuique To each his own

Schechter and Jenkinson responded to this slap in the face of a letter with the calm response:

The honour of discovering the Geniza belongs to the nameless dealers in antiquities of Cairo, who for
many years have continually offered its contents to the various libraries of Europe.

One of the early recognizers of the importance of the Genizah was book collector and Rabbi Shelomo
Aharon Wertheimer. Born in 1866 in Slovakia, the Jerusalem rabbi and independent scholar supported
his large poor family by buying and selling manuscripts. In 1890s Jerusalem Wertheimer was known as
an expert bibliophile, and thus received visits from dealers and suppliers who brought him manuscripts
for inspection and possible purchase. One of these suppliers was known as the Yemenite, a man who
Wertheimer dispatched to Egypt to buy manuscripts on his behalf. Werheimer tried to sell the
fragments to the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. From 1894 to 1896 Wertheimer sold 62 Geniza ms.
To Cambridge and 239 items to Oxford. In an important book of hitherto little known rabbinical
commentaries Werhheimer made conscious reference to the source of the manuscript with which he
was working: it comes from the old Geniza. .. in the land of Egypt. And he would go on to publish other
volumes filled with rich range of material from the Geniza- including more unknown midrash, rabbinic
response and liturgical poems. The wise scope of Geniza documents he put up for sale to Cambridge
everything from Judeo Spanish poetry collections to marriage contract to legal deeds to the seventh
century Apocalypse of Zerubbale to medical tracts to letters to Passover hymns- also indicates a keen
understanding of the vast and eclectic potential of the cache. Wertheimer unfortunately was barely
paid for his recuperation of Geniza texts. Count Rimao dHulst was also another retriever of geniza
fragments not compensated for his hard work. Another person A. H. Sayce who had through dHulst
been steadily supplying Oxford with geniza manuscripts claimed the Jews of the synagogue offered to
sell the who Geniza collection for about $5000 but the difficulty to get the materials out of Egypt

Sacred Trash: the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Hoffman, Adina, & Cole, Peter, Schocken: NY,
2011, p. 87.
remained a problem. In 1896 Elkan Adler returned to Cairo and was conducted by Chief rabbi Rafail ben
Shimon to the end of the ladies gallery and permitted to climb to the topmost rung of the ladder to
enter the chamber of the Genizah. Adler took away with himself a sacksful of paper and parchment for
the 4 hours he was permitted to collect. Upon his return to England Adler announced his discovery to
Schechter and Neubauer. Adler had in Neubauers eyes paid a heavy sum for a lot of trash. Schechters
genius in traveling to Cairo to retrieve materials from the Geniza was the hishtadlanus he did with the
leading Jewish families in Cairo to gain their trust to cart away such a large finding of texts. Schecther
also realized that were the geniza to be picked apart and sold piece meal it would deplete its value.
After Schechter settled in America news came that the scholar David Kaufmann had come in possession
of six hundred Geniza fragments which were donated on his death to the Hungarian Academy of
sciences in Budapest.

Once Schecther relocated to American to become chancellor of the JTSa he employed the assistance of
Israel Davidson. Davidsons discovery of acrostically signed poems of the poet Yannai on palimpsests
proved to be revolutionary and important. Davidson was born near Kavno (Kovno) and his parents had
already lost 12 children, and when Israel (Chaim) was born he lost his parents at the age of four. Having
studied at the Slobadka yeshiva Davidson sought to avoid the Czars military draft and fled to America.
He became a graduate of City College in 1902 and completed his PHD at Columbia on Parody in Jewish
Literature and then worked as a chaplain at Sing Sing for a number of years. In 1905 he was hired by
Schechter to teach Talmud at the JTS. In 1910 while looking through some of the genizah items
Schechter brought with him from Cambridge, Davidson happened upon a 5X4 inch pages contain
instructions in Judeuo-Arabic regarding the procedure of a prayer service. The directions cited the first
words of several liturgical poems called piyyutim. The Hymns were written by Yannai. In the 10th
century Sadya Gaon counted Yannai as the elder poets whose verse he says are model compositions.
The German Jewish liturgical poet R. Eprhaim of Bonn (1133-1196) tells the story of how a certain hymn
of Yannai is not recited because in an act of what the Talmud in another context calls kinat Sofrim ,
writers envy, he murdered his student Eleazar Kallir, the most prolific and celebrated of the early
Hebrew liturgical poets, by placing a scorpion in his sandal. May God forgive all those who say this of
Yannai. , the only quaisi compunctious Ephraim adds, if it did not really happen. Davidson published
the Yannai findings in the JQR with his commentary. Davidson after traveling to Cambridge made
another remarkable Yannai discovery when identifying a palimpsest of what earlier was identified as
liturgical and which Charles Taylor had focused more intently on the underlying Greek. Yannais Hebrew
hand was found as an acrostic running down the spine of a poem, a kind of signature. It was a find by
Davidson that was overlooked by the scholarly world previously that had focused on the underlying
Greek text, and Davidsons discovery would lead scholars to complete works of one of the titans of
Hebrew poetry. These acrostic signatures had been published for 2 decades so it makes one think of
Wittgensteins remark that the truth is under ones nose. In 1914 Davidson published a catalog of his
own beloved library collection titled, Hemdat Yisrael (Israels delight). Davidson later went back to the
palimpsests and identified forty individual units of eight long composite poems all of which were clearly
part of the Yannai hymn book. As one observer noted Yannais hymns as analogous to Bach Cantatas
that glorify the liturgy further. Yannai, a 7th century Jewish poet, makes no reference to Islam, but he
does site 5th century Midrashim. Schoken referred to the Yannai hymns as analogous in Jewish terms to
the recovered national German Epic, The Nieblungenlied (Songs of Nibelung) a poem based on pre-
Chrisitian motifs, which 18th century scholars brought to light.

C. Schocken Institute for Medieval Hebrew Poetry

Schocken founded the Institute for Hebrew poetry, Forschungsinstitut fuer hebraische Dichtung in
Berlin. The institutes director was Chaim Brody, a Hungarian born former chief rabbi of Prague. . Brody
hired a 30 year old Galacian Jew named Menachem Zulay. Zulay had made aliyah but Schocken brought
him back to Saxony to instruct his children, and there Zulay enrolled in the University of Leipzig and
eventually transferred to Berlin. Zulay envisioned that there were at least 30 volumes of sacred Hebrew
poetry to be published from the Geniza. Zulay wanted to bring to life, resurrect the bones and limbs in
the geniza and bring them back to life. Zulay saw that he would have to sift through the thousands of
copies of fragments with loving care and devotion, as a sacred task without end. The fruits of Zulays
work was a 1938 edition published by Schocken titled Piyyutei Yannai, containing about 800 poems,
about a 200% increase over Davidsons finds. Zulay understood that the Jewish Peoples legacy is not in
conquered lands or constructed cities but in the written texts it has created. Zulay attempted to restore
to the history of Hebrew literature the lost page of Hebrew poetry of late antiquity in the land of Israel.
Ezra Fleischer the inheritor of Zulays mantle, spoke of the electric aspect and sorcery of the piyyuts
allusive self-contained language as well of its distant strange and uniquely Jewish beauty in a 1999
assessment offered a sobering reminder of just what it is that goes into the work that Zulay and his
colleagues did and do.187 Fleischer wrote:

The importance of the Genizas contribution to the study of Hebrew liturgical poetry cannot be
overstated. But what has been garnered from this tremendous contribution is not the contribution of
the Geniza itself, and we err in speaking of these finds in the passive formulations so often employed in
this context. For in this field as in other fields of research nothing is given and nothing is discovered. No
document is deciphered and no author is identified. No item is dated, no picture reconstructed, and no
theory is raised. All these acts are the achievements of a dedicated host of scholars- early and later-
great and less great, who devoted their lives to the study of the Geniza and wearied in their labor,
sweating blood in their efforts to sort its treasures, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing, their
eyes weakening their hairlines receding, and their backs and limbs giving out as they grew old and frail=-
each in his way and at his own pace.188

D. Geniza Studies and Classic Rabbinic MS.

Other scholars of the medieval period like Malachi Beit-Arie [with whom DBL took a seminar at The
University of Pennsylvania], and Shamma Friedman have also done much to document how,where,

Sacred Trash: the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Hoffman, Adina, & Cole, Peter, Schocken: NY,
2011, p.124.
Sacred Trash: the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, Hoffman, Adina, & Cole, Peter, Schocken: NY,
2011, p.124; For more on Fleischer as heir to Zulay see Yediot aharonot, July 25, 1975, Interview with Penina
Mizilisch; Elizur from the depths [Heb] Maddaei HaYahadut 43, 2006 Fleischers quotes are as follows: uniquely
Jewish beauty, Fleischer, Yediot aharonot, March 20, 1987, interview by Sizi Stavi The Geniza didnt change this
discipline, Fliescher, the Cultural Profile of Eatern Jewry (Heb).
when, and what texts existed and were written down in the Middle Ages. These two scholars are
exemplary an experts in medieval scribal practices. Their work is invaluable. Marc Brettler has also
brought to the attention of the scholarly community a complete copy of Avot de Rabbi Nathan and a
fragment of Hullin and Shmma Friedman has examined 2 fragments of Neziqin from the Geniza. Yet the
majority of the Geniza is limited to the period of the Rishonim. The question of texts and their existence
before the Rishonim is a major conundrum in Jewish scholarship today . Menachem Elon in Mishpat Ivri
gives a magisterial overview of the development of Jewish law that is also an important source.189

E. Book Lists in Cairo Geniza

E.J. Worman published in JQR Two Book Lists from the Cambridge Cairo Geniza Fragments.190 Some of
these books have information about the former owners or provenance. One catalogue lists among 200
volumes only 19 secular books of medicine and fiction.191 A Cairo booksellers catalogue of the 12th
century shows about the same proportion. It lists 77 bound books mostly liturgical but also some on
grammar, medicine, and mathematics.192

F. Jewish physician bibliophiles in Cairo

(1) Yakub ben Yusuf ben Killis was a cultured physician in Cairo who collected large numbers of books
and manuscripts. After unscrupulous dealings in Bagdad he fled to Cairo, where he rose to eminence in
the service of the caliph (979 CE). He built a magnificent palace, and entertained writers and employed
copyists for the transcription of legal, medical, and scientific books. Copyists and binders together cost
the Jewish physician a large sum of 1000 gold dinars monthly.193

(2) A second Jewish bibliophile in Cairo was the physician Ephraim,194 who lived in eh second half of the
eleventh century. Ephraim was the student of the Arabic doctor, Ali ibn Ridwan.

He put great value on the acquisition and increase of books, so that he possessed great
collections of medical and other works. He constantly employed copyists who were supplied by

With regards to the oral law vs. the written law, Elon writes, At the outset it should be made clear that these
concepts written law and oral law are not the same as two apparently similar concepts labeled in other legal
systems. For example, Roman law uses the terms jus scriptum (written law) and just non scriptum (unwritten law),
which at first glance might seems to be the same as written law and oral law in the Jewish tradition. However the
term jus non scriptum refers to the law that has its source in custom and has not been reduced to writing; it is
sometimes equated with the idea of jus natural i.e. law whose source is in nature and not in legislation or in
authoritative decisions. Jewish oral law is different, in that it includes legislation i.e. takkanot and gezerot, as well
as laws that have been arrived at through the process of interpretation and similar methods; the only part of
Jewish alw not included in the oral law is the law explicitly written in scripture. Therefore the terms written law
and oral law in the Jewish legal system are not really compatible to the written law and unwritten law of other
legal systems. (p.191, Mishpat Ivri , vol. 1 , trans. By Auerbach and Sykes).
A.J. Worman, Two Book-Lists from the Cambridge Cairo Genizah Fragments, JQR XX, 1907, 450-63.
S. Poznaski, Ein altes juedische-arabisches Buecher-Verzeichnis, JQR, XV, 1903, 76-78
E.N. Adler and I. Broyde, An Acnient Booksellers Catalogue, JQR XIII, 1901, 52-62, 550-51.
A. Grohmann, Bibliotheken und Bibliophilen im islamischen Orient, Festrschrift der Nationalbibliothek in
Wien, Vienna 1926, p.437-38
Steinschneider, M., Die arabische Literature der Juden, Frankfort, 1902, p.175-76.
him with all necessities. Among them was Mohammed ben Said al-Hagarin known as Ibn
Milsaka, I found a whole series of books written by his hand for Ephraim. My father told me that
once there came a man from Iraq to Egypt in order to buy books and take them with him. He
met Ephraim and they agreed that Ephraim sell him ten thousand books. This happened in the
time of the Afdal, the son fothe Amir al-Guyush. When Afdal heard of the books deal he ordered
that the books remain in Egypt and that they should not be taken abroad. He therefore sent to
Ephraim the sum of money which the man from Iraq had promised to pay him; the books were
transported to the library of Afdal, who put his honorary title on them. Thus I saw many medical
and other works which carried the names of both Ephraim and Afdal. Ephraim left behind him
more than 24 thousand volumes and much property in cash and real estate.195

Clearly Ephraim did much to promote, preserve, and further, knowledge by his employment of copyists
and collection of 24 thousand volumes, a large number for his time and age.

G. Other Jewish Physician Bibliophiles of the Middle Ages outside of Cairo

(1) In the 13th century (1223 CE) he library of the deceased physician Abraham ben Hillel (Arabized as
AbulIzz) was sold at auction and the names of the books and their buyers are recorded giving us
knowledge about a major collector of medieval manuscripts. The library contained Maimonides, Galen,
Averroes, Hippocrates, and treatises on astrology, and on the diseases of sheep, etc.196

(2) A more extensive library was that of the physician Leo Mosconi, a doctor in Majorca in the early 14th
century. Mosconi composed a commentary on the commentary of ibn Ezra on the Humash. Mosconis
widow Muna made an inventory of all the books including medical instruments and manuscripts which
were sold at auction. The public notary made a notation of every book sold listing its title, price, and
name of purchaser. The total sale of books was sold for 147 livres and 19 sous. Mosconi collected just as
many secular works as religious. Of the non-religious authors they included Aristotle. Aristotles physics,
ethics, and metaphysics shows Mosconis interest in philosophy which at that time was science before
sciences break off from philosophy in the 18th century Enlightenment. Not found of Aristotles works are
Aristotles politics, because this was only lately rediscovered in the Renaissance. Also amongst
Monsconis non-Jewish texts were those of Averoes, Galen, Maimonides, Ptolemy (Almagest in Hebrew
or Arabic), Hippocrates, Avicenna, etc. There were many treatises on astronomy, anatomy (although the
church forbade autopsies in the Middle ages although Galen had explored monkey anatomy),
meteorology (Aristotle composed on this subject of trying to understand weather patterns), medicine,
physics, music, logic, ethics, and grammar.

Surely these topics also were amongst Maimonides library as Shlomo Pines translators Introduction to
the University of Chicago edition of the Guide for the Perplexed reconstructs some of Maimonides
rerences and sources to non-Jewish authors, which would be familiar to educated medieval physicians.
See Ibn Abi Usaidbis history of Greek and Arabic physicians in M. Meyerhof, Ueber einige Privatbibliotheken
im fatimidischen Aegypten, Rivista degli studi orientali, XII, 1929-30, p. 287-88.
The catalogue was given to Worman, op. cit. XX, 460-63; cf. J. Mann, The Jews in Egypt and in Palestine under
the Fatimid Caliphs (Oxford, 1922), II, 327n; W. Bacher, La Bibliotheque dun medicin juif, in Revue des etudes
Juives, XL, 1900, 55-61.
Pines notes that Maimonides consulted the works of Plato, Aristotle, the Pythagoreans, Epicurus, Galen,
Proclus, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, ibn Bajja, Averroes, the Sabians, the Kalam, , Al Razi, etc.197

Amongst the few literary works included romances such as Barlaam and Josaphat.198 Amongst the
Jewish sages works found in the library included ibn Ezra and Samuel ibn Tibbon.

(3) Jewish physicians show similar content as that of Mosconi. The collection of Dr. David dEstella, a
Jewish doctor who lived in France at the end of the 14th century included Aristotle, Galen, Averroes, and
Maimonides and Dr. David also owned treatises on grammar, fevers, physics, therapeutics, and

H. Books amongst Ashkenaz vs. Sephardic Jews

Chaim Soloveitchik has written about the difference between medieval Ashkenazic culture of northern
France and Germany as opposed to the Sephardic culture in the more southern regions of south of
France, Spain, Italy, and the Meditterean Basin. While the Ashkenazic culture involved close attention to
Talmudic texts and super commentaries on Talmudic tractates with the use of pilpul by emphasizing
halakhahic technical studies, the culture of the Sephardim was much more generous in its scope and ken
in incorporating scientific Muslim translations of Greek and Latin classics. In the Sephardic culture
Maimonides championed Jewish Aristotlenianism as did Ralbag in Avignon (Rabbi Levy ben Gerson,
author of the Milhamot HaShem, etc.) while Moses ibn Ezra and Jehudah HaLevy wrote beautiful poetry
with a theological purpose however often adapting the Arabic meter, and poetics of the Muslim culture.
The Kimchis championed Hebrew grammar. Alfasi codified the laws. Ibn Tibbon dynasty participated in
the restoration fo Greek learning in Europe by translations and original philosophic scientific works.

In England Jews translated secular works, and a few compiled scientific books.200 Reb Elchanan known as
Deodatus Episcopus Judaeorum (d. 1184) wrote an astronomical treatise. Samuel Nakda of Bristol
compiled a Hebrew grammar in 1194. Benedict of Oxford translated many scientific works from Latin or
old French into Hebrew. Among Benedicts translations include those of Abelard of Baths Quaestiones
naturales, containing dialogues between uncle and nephew on natural history. Benedicts translation was
neither literal nor accurate. He left out proper names and referred to Aristotle only as one of the wise

See Pines, Shlomo, The Philosophical Sources of the Guide for the Perplexed, in The Guide for the perplexed,
Chicago: University of Chicago, Ivii-cxxxiv; Rambams Jewish sources include the breadth of Rabbinic texts up to his
time (1134-1204) although Rambam forbid consultation with works such as Shiur Koma which gives the
dimensions of the G-dhead in crude anthrophomorfic terms. Rambam does readily cite Rav Saadia Gaon, Rav
Yehudah HaLevy, ibn Ezra, and normative canonized Rabbinic texts: Mishnah, Tosefta, Bavli, Yerushalmi,
Midrashim, etc. In a conversation on 6/27/13 Dr. Rabbi Michael Shmidman told me that he also is working on an
essay that reconstructs Maimonides sources, and library etc.
I. Levi, Linventaire du mobilier et de la bibliotheque dun medicin juif de Majorque au XIV sicle, Revue des
etudes juives, XXXIX (1899), 242-60.
Kaufmann, D., Une Liste danciens livres hebreux conserves dans un manuscript de Paris, Revue des Etudes
Juives, XIII, 1886, 300-304.
J. Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England, London, 1893, p.401-6.
men of Arabia and Keder.201 Recently the Shakespeare scholar Rosenberg has published book on the
first chief rabbi of England whose scholarly output was quite significant author about 40 halakhic works.

I. High cost of medieval manuscripts

Books in the middle ages, Talmudic or scientific were scarce and expensive. Zunz notes that in 1150 a
copy of the Humash cost 3 marks while a Hebrew teachers salary was only 10 marks annually. In 1200 a
Torah sold for 60 marks. In 1272 a copy of Isaiah sold for 3 ounces of gold. In 1301 in Seville the medical
Almansor cost 6 gold gulden. In 1302 a Humash sold for 18 livres. In 1384 Maimonides Moreh
HaNevukhim cost 9 ducats. In 1427 in Brandenburg a Hebrew Tanakh in 3 folio volumes was sold for 33
gulden. In 1441 Manetti of Florence paid 21 gulden for a 13th century Hebrew Bible. In 1454 at an
auction in Algiers, Vayikra and Devarim were sold for 4 gold pieces.202 The high cost of books may be the
reason R. Judah ibn Tibbon taught his son the virtue of lending books by keeping good records
cautioning him to make a memorandum of it before it leaves the house.203 The high cost of books may
seem to contradict Sefer Hasidims cautioning, if A has two sons, one of whom is averse to lending his
books, and the other does it willingly the father should have no doubt in leaving all his library to the
second son, even if he be the younger but this is quickly understood that the text also cautions that the
lender keep good records of the texts lent out to the borrowers.

Because texts were so expensive this may be further reasons, besides the theological while the oral
transmission was emphasized as most Jews would be able to recite by memory the basic davoning and
the shaliach Tzibur would recite the liturgy aloud without recourse to a siddur. Abrahams argues that
this high cost of written texts besides the Jews love of learning lishma, also contributed to Jewish
reverence and cherishing of texts.204 Illuminated manuscripts would be even more expensive although
Jewish artists were forbidden by the pusek (lo oseh likhah pusel) to represent G-d in any antrhomorphic
form. The Birds head haggada is a case and point about this. Here even the heads of sages in the
Haggadah are represented by birds heads perhaps based on the pusek in Genesis that one cannot see
G-ds face and live, as Yakov wrestled with the angel at Peniel (the word of the place means face of G-d)
and saw G-d face to face yet his life was spared. Even Moshe Rebbeinu in Shemot only saw the back
straps of Hashems tefilin, while in Devarim only Moshe as the unique chief exemplary prophet spoke
with Hashem face to face.

In the context of the history of the production of medieval Hebrew Manuscripts, In general block text
was more expensive to copy than cursive script. 205

J. The scarcity of Medieval Texts was not only due to their high cost but also Persecutions of book

Jacobs, J., The Jews of Angevin England, London, 1893, p. 196-98
Zunz, Leopold Zur Geschichte und Literatur, Berlin 1845, p.211-13
Abrahams, op cit., p.353.
Abrahams, I., Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (NY, 1896, p.352; Abrahams writes that the high cost of written
texts increased the instinctive reverence with which Jews always regarded books in the middle ages.
SeeThe History of the Prodution of Sciences and Humanities & fasc. 12 (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of
Science and Humanities, 2000).
Many Jewish texts were scattered, confiscated, or destroyed by hostile groups that sought to cut the life
blood of Jewish survival out from under Jews. That is to say buy preventing Jews from learning and
knowledge the hostile groups could attempt to cut Judaism at the roots by strangling its life blood that
nourished its purpose, meaning, and foundation. Anti-Semites have long recognized that by depriving
Jews of self-knowledge and knowledge of their tradition they can attempt to suffocate the surval of

In 1391 the books of the exiled Jews of Germany were given to the University fo Heidelberg which sold
them. At the plunder of Jewish communities in Germany and Castile, Hebrew books were destroyed
together with other Jewish properties. In Lisbon manuscripts were seized and given to Christian
libraries. In Savoy in 1440 the Jews terrorized by Fra Vicenze hid their books in a well. Often Jews were
forced to sell their manuscripts to raise money for ransoming Jews taken captive.206

The Censorship of Rabbinic texts particularly the burning of the Talmud is an immense topic, hopefully
the future of one of my other papers. A short essay on Censorship of Rabbinic texts is found at TC.
Autumn 2006 Newsletter at:,%20Issue%202.pdf

Davids AJL presentation in Washington D.C. titled Censorship of Rambams Moreh HeNevukim and
Sefer Mada: The Maimonidean Controversy treats the subject of internal censorship.

K. Migration of Books against odds of fire, war, invasion, flood, and vermin

Interestingly a Latin document concerning an English monastery was found in the Cairo Geniza. It was
probably brought by some Jewish refugee out of England in 1290 when Edward I expelled the
Jews.207There are also numerous Yiddish documents in this Sephardic Cairo Geniza. It is truly miraculous
that these non-Sephardic materials ended up in the Cairo Geniza when one considers the destruction of
precious manuscripts by war, fire, flood, vermin, and wanton negligence. Maitlands Dark Ages on this
matter is to the point:

If the reader has fairly considered the probable effects of wars and fires, aided by the more slow and
silent but incessant operations of Time assisted by damp and all the auxiliaries which he has employed
when eh negligence of man has left manuscripts to his mercy; if he has reflected that more than six
hundred years have elapsed since the close of that period (the Dark Ages) of which we are now
speaking, during all which time the work of destruction has been going on; if he has at all realized these
facts, surely I might confidently appeal to him whether it is very far short of a miracle that any
manuscripts of that or any earlier period should have survived to the present time.208

Maitland is writing before the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls which were preserved due to the dry
weather of the Qumran environment and the Nash papyrus also preserved due to climatic conditions.
Yet Maitland is right aht books and manuscripts were in precarious threats to grave robbers, warriors,

Zunz, op cit. p.230-31.
Journal of Theological Studies, XXVIII, 215.
Maitland, S.R. The Dark Ages, p.276
and other pilferers. War and invasion frequently broke up and scattered collections. In Europe the wars
between Germans and slavs, the Norse conquests of France and England in the 9th century, the wars of
the Magyars in Germany and Italy in the 10th century, the repeated invasions of France in the 14th and
15th centuries by the English, the crusaders in the near east, and the Mongol invasions in the 13th
century all threatened text collections and were destructive to them. The invasion of the Visogoths and
Vandals in Rome may account for the disappearance of the menorah that the Romans originally
plundered from the Beit HaMikdash around 70 CE.209

Malachi Beit Arie writes, The loss of most of the codices was not the consequences of historical
conditions alone. Herew books were destroyed or abandoned not only through wanderings,
emigrations, persecutions, and expulsions, or confisgated and burned in Christian persecutions, and
expulsions or confisgated and burend in Christian countries: they were also above all worn out by use.
Unlike Latink, Greek and to a certain degree Arabic books, there were not preserved either in well
protected royal or aristocratic collections or in moasteries, mosques, or religious academic institutions
but were privately owned and used.210 Beit Arie notes that the Jews adopted the codex form relatively
later than their Latin and Muslim counterparts.211 The earliest extant categorically dated Hebrew
Codices were written in the beginning of the 10th century all of them from the Middle East.

L. Publication and Dissemintation of Rabbinic texts212

Walter Ong213 has characterized the publication and dissemination of texts in the Middle ages as the
chirographic era differing from the post-printing press typrographic era. Rather than linear transmission

See: Fine, Steven "When I went to Rome... there I saw the Menorah..." : the Jerusalem Temple implements
during the second century C.E. The Archaeology of Difference (2007) 169-180 , 2007; On 7/2/13 there were 127
hits on the menorah in RAMBI
Beit Arie, Malachi, Unveiled faces of Medieval Hebrew Books, The Evolution of Manuscript Production
Progression or Regression, Magnes Press, p. 15
Beit Arie writes, The revolutionary codex form of the book, which was adopted and diffused by Christians
already in the 1st centuries of our era and replaced by the old roll form in the areas around the Mediterranean
from about 300 was employed by Jews much later as is attested both by findings and by textual evidence. Between
the abundant finds of the Hebrew books from Late Antiquity The DSS and the fragments of the Qumran caves
and the Judean desert of the Hellenistic and early Roman period- and the earliest dated and datable surviving
Hebrew codices, thee is a gap of some 800 years almost without evidence of the Hebrew book, in either roll or
codex form. (p15).
On the individualist mode of Hebrew book production and the transmission of Jewish texts see Malachi, Beit
Arie, Transmission of Texts by Scribes and Copyists: Unconscious and Critical Inferences, Bulletin of John Rylands
University Library of Manchester 75.3 (Autum 1993) [Artefact and Text: The Recreation of Jewish Literature in
Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts: Proceedings of a Conference held in the University of Manchester 28-30,
April1992, 33-51
Ong writes, Since in a primary oral culture conceptualized knowleed that is not repeated aloud soon vanishes,
oral societies must invest great energy in saying over and over again what has been learned arduously over the
ages. This need estabhlishes a highly traditionalist or conservative set of mind that with good reason inhibits
intellectual experimentation. See: W.J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the World (London, 1982,
41 See B. Stock, The implications of Literarcy: Written language and Modeslof Interpretation in the Eleventh and
12th centuries, (Princeton, 1983), 15-16; Ong and Stock might be argued against with the particular example of
Judaisms oral torah for in this conservative tradition we see on the contrary a tremendous amount of fostering of
new ideas or interpretations (Hidushim).
of texts there was multi-linear transmission by scribal copiests. Abramson gives many examples of
authors and translators starting from Rav Saadia Gaon who appeal to the readers of their works to
correct any mistake they may find in them.214 Their appeals do not only related to grammar and
linguistic mistakes and ommissions but also to content. Some authors even encouraged the users to add
material as did Rav Nathan av ha-Yeshiva in his introduction to a commentary on the Mishnah.215
Publishing medieval works often involved letting them be reproduced and circulated, which interrupted
the linear transmission of many texts imposing multi-linear reproduction.216 As pointed out before in this
monograph such encouragement to correct, emend, and add to authorial texts reflects a medieval
concept of intellectual ownership totally different than the modern one namely collective authorship.

Some scribes conceived their duty as being more than copyists but had the mission to correct and
improve the text being copied. They often regarded themselves as critical editors sometimes even as
redactors so much that when a copyist refrained from improving his model he would apologize. The goal
of the scribe as not only to correct mistakes in the model exemplar, but also to edit the model for
better. Copy scribes often consulted multiple manuscripts in order to arrive at a final completed
homogenized better version. For example Reuven Vidal Bonastruc proofread and vocalized a prayer
book in Avignon in 1453 while consulting various prayer books which presented various textual and
vocalized readings. Vidal ben Solomon ben Qatorzi produced in 1445 probably in Provence a copy of ibn
Ezras commentary on the Humash while using two glossed copies and selecting from each the version
he considered to be superior.217 In some cases the scribe copiest even saw his role as to re-create the
text. In some cases the copiest scribe overruled the original authors explanations which seemed to him
unreasonable and thereby integrated his own opinion into the text. Some copyists goal was to establish
what Kantorowicz defines as a richtige right version as opposed to an echte authentic one.218 Some
Hebrew manuscripts produced since the 13th century represent deliberate integration of related texts by
the scribal copyist.219

Thus the text of an author was continually in process a bit lihavdil like Walt Whitmans _Leaves of
Grass_ which the poet worked on his whole life. The difference is that Medieval Hebrew scribes who
copied texts entered in not only the reception history of the text but the actual authorial process of the
original text. In the Medieval ages evidence also exists that important texts were copies and circulated
as each section was finished before the completion fot he entire work. An example of this is Levi ben
Abrahams colophon to his philosophic book Livyat hen, completed in Arles in 1295. In his colophon he

Abramson, Shraga, Mehem u-vahem, in The Book of Siva: A collection of Studies and Essays in Memory of the
Later Jeruslaem Publisher Shalom Siva, ed. A.Even Shoshan et al , Jerusalem, 1979, 3-7. Malachi beit Arie points out
that an additional example can be found in the colophon of Solomon ben Levy to his translation of Emunah Ramah
by Abraham ibn David ha-Levy (MS. London, Jews College 291).
Abramson, Shraga, 4.
Beit Arie, Malachi, Jewish Scribality and Its Impact on Texts transmitted, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions:
Orality, Textuality, and Cultural Diffusion, New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 228.
See Beit Arie, Malachi, Jewish Scribality and Its Impact, p. 234
Kantorowicz, Herman, Einfuehrung in die Textkritik: Systematische Darstellung der textkritischen Grundsaetze
fuer Philogen und Juristen, Leipzig, 1921, 5.
See:Ta-Shma, Israel M, The Open book in Medieval Hebrew Literature: The Problem of Authorized editions,
Bulletin of John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 75, 3 (Autumn 1993), 17-24
writes that in the course of the creation of his work he made textual and structural changes and from
time to time corrected it and added new matieral. The Rabbi was informed that while this process was
going on, people, copied most of the work, and he therefore pleads with those who have copies of one
of the earlier versions to correct the text according to the latest version, or replace it with the final
version.220 Thus Beit Arie concludes that contrary to common belief, medieval verbal texts were not
fixed once they were written down. Chirographic and visual texts were as flexible as oral ones.221
Scribal copyists had an immense impact on the interpretations and reception of texts by their
introduction of titles, initial words, running headlines, decorations and illustrations, diagrams, tables of
contents, etc. Scribes also effected the transmission of texts by choosing types and sizes of scripts,
paragraphing and subdividing, spacing, underlinging certain parts or words, or just by using different
colored inks. Thus copyists deteremined the hierarchical structure and legibility of the texts that they
copied with their interpretive choices. Beit Arie relates these writer downers of texts in the transmission
process to the oral repeters in earlier ages. Beit Arie writes:

The impact of scribes on the transmitted written text and its reception may be compared to that of the
reciters nad performers o the oral text, and these observations on the nature of written transmission of
Hebrew medieval texts may contribute further arguments for the removal of the cultural barriers
between orality and scribality. Furthermore some of the characteristics of scribal individual reproduction
presented here such as critical intervention, editorial freedom, eclectic conflation of different models
and the visual and figural remaking, may very well be found to fit also early Hebrew typolological mass
reduplication of medieval texts. If this assumption is right, as random examples hint, the deamarcation
between oral, scribal and printed reproduction will have to be rewritten and perhaps a unfified
observation of all the sorts of verbal reproduction would emerge.222

N. Doanne introduced the model of scribally reperformed texts referring to scribes who are part of
the oral traditional culture and who write or copy oral poetic works.223

Hand copying texts rather than the printing press methods for duplicating texts led to their own set of
errors. Factors causing errors include: The repeated movements of the copyists eyes from model to
copy and back, which may caused omissions, repetitions, and transpositions, the memorization of the
visually perceived seriesof words; the impact of converting a text in one format or layout or type of
script to a different one; the significant consequences of the apparent phonetic or oral medium involved
in copying,224 whether it be vocal by reading aloud the copied text, or silent as in the phenomenon

See: Sirat, Colette, Les differentes versions du Liwyat Hen du Levy ben Abraham, Revue des Etudes Juives 122,
1963, 167-168
Beit Arie, Malachi, Jewish Scribality and Its Impact, p. 237.
Beit Arie, Malachi, Jewish Scribality and its Impact, p. 238.
SeeOral Texts, Intertexts and Intratexts: Editing Old English in Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History,
eds. J. Clayton and E. Rothstein, Madison Wisconsin, 1991, 80-81, 83-85
In Sefer Hasidim: One who used to copy from the Bible and the commentaries and would first read aloud
anything he was writing; see Das Buch der Frommen, ed. J. Wistinetzki, Berlin 1891, 187, par. 733-420, par. 1363
which Havet calls internal dictating225 and to which A Dain attributes most copying errors, claiming
that the visual aspect of the text and incorrect reading affects copying much less than the oral aspect
invovlved in the process; the unidentified psychological factors226 such as the toll of poverty on the
scribe which produce errors of halplography, dittography and assoiciation, etc.227

William Wattenbach cites a colophon formulat from an 8th century Latin manuscript with elements that
appear in many later colophons, which indicates reading aloud as part of the copying process. However
the common assujption of reading aloud in the Middle Ages was recently revised by Paul Saenger who
argues that the separation of words in Latin manuscripts, starting frm the 7th century onwards enabled
silent reading and copying, which were well suited to the monastic conditions.228

In Jewish studies Saul Liebermann in his book on the textual criticism of the Yerushalmi, provides a
treatment in the first 50 pages to the classification of the demonstration of textual errors in the
transdmission of the Jerusalem Talmud.229 Regarding Yerushalmi the famous Leiden manuscript of the
Jerusalem Talmud copied in Italy in 1289 was commissioned by the physician Yehiel ben Yequtiel ha-
Rofe who was a scholar and identified as the author of the halakhic compendium Tanya and other
works.230 The physician testifies in his colophons that his copying was a critical one, and he endeavored
to emend his corrupted model. For codicological reaons Yehiel the physician copied twice the text of
one folio in large format. I.Z. Feintuch who compared the text fo the two parallel leaves and analyzed
the differences between them, found at least 50 discrepencies in the 76 duplicated lines. In addition to
discrepencies in spelling and grammar and roshei tevot (abreviations), change of names, and omissions
and additions, there were differences in wording, and some critical interventions which occur in one
copy but not the other.231 Some scribal copyists bid the readers forgiveness by evoking and citing Psalm
19:13 ; - Some scribal copyists actually asked forgiveness and classified the
types of errors that might have been made and appealed to future readers to make corrections, thereby
acknowledging the mutable nature of the transmission.232

Havet, Louis, Manuel de critique verbale appliquee aux textes latins, Paris 1911, 44-46; Cf. Henry John Chaytor,
From Script to Print: An Introduction to Medieval Vernacular Literature, Cambridge, 1945, 5-6, 19, on acoustic and
kinesthetic or speech motor images of words and the auditory memory of medieval scribes.
Andrieu, J., Pour lexplication psychologique des fautes de copist, Revue des Etudes Latines 28, 1950, 279-292
See: Martin, L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts, Stuttgart,
1973; Leighton, Durham Reynolds and Nigel Guy Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A guide to the transmission of Greek
and Latin Literature, 3rd ed. Oxford, 1974, 186-213, 247-250.; Boyle, Leonard E., Medieval Latin Palaeolgraphy: A
bibliographical Introduction, Toronto, 1984, 286-316.
Wattenbach, Wilhelm, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter, 3rd ed., Leipzig, 1896, 495-496; Saenger, Paul, Manieres
de lires medievales, Histoire de ledition francaise, Paris 1982, 1:131-141; Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late
medieval Script and Society, Viator 13, 1983: 367-414; and recently Space Between Words: The Origin of Silently
Reading, Stanford, 1997. See also: Chariter, Roger, Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Adiences from
Codex to Computer, Philadelphia 1995, 15-16.
Al ha-Yerushalmi, Jerusalem, 1929
Israel Zvi Feintuch, Versions and Traditions in the Talmud (Hebrew), Ramat-Gam, 1985, 65-76
Israel Zvi Feintuch, Versions and Traditions in the Talmud, 51-63
Rabbi Saadia ben David Adani, a Yemenite scribe, copyist, and author, who wrote 15 surviving manuscripts in
Syria and Palestine between 1463 and 1485 adopted a formula specifying the varous types of potential errors
Copying of texts was not uniform. It is analogous to the phenomena of a story being told to many
persons all of whom retell the story in different ways. That is to say study of the comparison of the same
text copied twice by the same hand from the same model within a short time yields different texts. Such
a comparison demonstrates that deviation from the exemplars is not rigidly deteremined by certain
psychological, linguistic, and mental structures, or by the copyists spelling habits, pronunciation, and
associations, but is flexible and open. That is to say copying is subject to unstable determinants which
may result in them producing two different versions while copying from the same model exemplar.

Some scribal copyists also attribute their mistakes to the faults in their model exemplar. The model may
be mixed up, or hardly legible or decipherable or fragmentary. The scribe would do their best to emend
the text but oftent his was hard if the model they were copying from was damaged or imperfect. Some
scribes also attribute their transmission errors to lack of time, pressure on speed of copying. Some
scribes in colophons note their harsh conditions and attribute their erros to their poverty,233 constant
worries, wandering, or detrimental environmental conditions.234

O. Technical Production of Rabbinic Texts

The relatively late Tractate Soferim describes the nature and how of the making of sifrei Torah. For
medieval Hebrew manuscripts marginal pricking allowed forms of vertical rows on the outer or on both
the outher and inner margins to guide the tracing of the horizontal lines, while single prickings are found
on the upper and lower margins to guide the tracing of the vertical boundary lines or in case of partial
ruling, the tracing of just a frame. In most Hebrew manuscripts pricking was applied to all the folded
folios of each quire concurrently not only to reduce labor time but no doubt also to ensure ruling

Whether written Latin, Greek Hebrew, Syriac, Copic, Armenian, Glagolithic, or Cyrilic scripts they all
shared the same anatomy and same materials to divide space for their layout and requiring planning for
their formats and proporitions on the page. The molecular structure of quiring achieved by folding a
certain number of bifolia and the employment of means for ensuring the right sequence of the quiries or
the bifolia and folios withn the quires located on the margins was a geometic art.

The few dated manuscripts that survive from the period of the early Hebrew codex in Provence, Bas
Languedoc, and in the Iberian Penninsula to the Maghreb all produced by North African Scribes in the
late 10th and early 11th centuries, attest to a very economical practice of ruling , characteristic of Latin

committed in copying namely mistakes in transcribing, additions, and ommisions, indicating that these errors
creep in unwillingingly by the copyist. See: Beit Arie, Malachi, Jewish Scribality and Its Impact, p. 233.
On the inferior salaries of hired scribes in the Middle East see Shelmo Dov Goitein, A Mediterranean society,
Berkeley, 1971, 2, 238; Nehemya Allony, Books and their Manufacture in Medieval Palestine, Shalem 4, 1984, 15-
18; the inferior status of scribes in the social hierarchy of Haside Ashkenaz is reflected in Sefer Hasidim; Das Buch
der Frommen, ed. J. Wistinetzki, 189, par. 745.
One scribe pleads with readers by himself being overwhelmed by troubles and miseries which inflicts on him
distress; see: Danon, Abraham, Documents relating to the History of Karaites in European Turkey, JQR, 17, 1926-
27, 165-166.
Beit Arie, Malachi, Unveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew Books, p. 20.
manuscripts until the middle of the 9th century.236 Two successive unfolded bifolia or four sometimes six
folios were ruled by hard point at once, the direct ruling being exercised on the hair side. Thus in just
one step eight or even 12 pages were ruled together when the furrows made by the shard ruling
instrument not only became visible on the flesh side of the rule folio or bifolium but also left their
imprint on the consecutive folios or bifolia. The practice though never abandoned was replaced as the
standard ruling technique in the mid 14th century by single unit ruling. The large majority of dated or
colophoned parchment manuscripts wre ruled bifolium by bifolium a procedure observed already in the
13th century providing the same numberof ruled pages as the previous one (4 pages) while requiring the
pricking of only the outer margins. If a scribe were to incorporate a running commentary ontop of a
primary text the page layout would be changed so that copying of those integrated glossed legal
compilations or biblical books accompanied by Aramaic translations, and commentaries, which had
emereged sometime earlier, required repeated changes to the interior layout and a dynamic design of
the textual components. Scribes responsed creatively to this challenge and produced skillfully elaborate
multilayer books, fitting together related texts in a modular way often presented in alluring decorative
and striking shapes.237 Beit Arie argues that Hebrew scribes were creative in shaping composite corpra
of textual exemplars that promited the study and learning to facilitate new ideas pointing to the
individualistic nature of the transmission of medieval Hebrew texts illustrating a primary scribal initiative
played in this enterprise. Scribes realized that the uniform layout of four pages at once did not suit the
dynamic nature of the new genre layout. On the other hand plummet which had already been in use in
Europe and was usually applied to each page separately fitted the flexible ruling dictated by the texture
of modular integregated layers. Indeed the same technical transmission which occurred in Latin codices
about a century earlier had been associated also with a literary and intellectual function- the spread of
the glossed bible.238

To save time and effort Albert Derolez239 argues that there existed a ruling device that in one step traced
with ink all the horizontal lines. He assumed that such and advance technique developed in the learned
and cultural society of the Italian Renaissance, was introduced by stationers who sold ready ruled quires
to scribes, as a few published inventories of cartolai indeed indicate. This technology revolutionized the
way in which manuscripts could be copied and cut costs in the commercialized mass production of
quired and ruled writing materials. Peter Gumbert argues that the invention of a kind of ruling rake
allowed the ruling of number of lines at once again cutting labor costs.240 Yet Beit Arie cautions against
assuming that scribal activity was always determined by the bottom line of costs. He writes, in most

See: Rand, Edward K., How many leaves at a time? in Palaeographia Latina 5 (1927). 52-78; idem Traces de
piqures dans quelques manuscrits du haut Moyen Age, Comptes renus de seances de Lacademie des Inscription
& Belles LEttres, 1939: 411-31; idem., Prickings in a Manuscript of Orleans, Transactions and Proceedings of the
American Philological Association 70 (1939): 327-41. See also Leslie Webber Jones, Pin Pricks at the Morgan
Library, ibid.: 318-26.
Beit Arie, Malachi, Unveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew Books, Technical Evolution, p. 25
Beit Arie, Malachi, Unveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew Books, Technical Evolutuion, p.25
See Derolez, Albert, Codicologie des Manuscript en ecriture humanistiques
J Peter Gumbert, Ruling by Rake and Board, in The Role of the book in Medieval Culture: Proceedings of the
Oxford Inernatianal symposium, 26 Sept.- 1 Oct. 1982, ed. Peer Ganz (Bibliologia 3) (Turnhout, Brefpols,1986), 44-
areas both Jewish copyists who produced copies for their own use and financed the production
themselves and individuals who commissioned books from professional scribes, defied economic
constraints and gave priority to toher interests such as comfort of copying, aestheitics , and literary
functionality. In Germany and France ruling efficiency was sacrificed in favor of new and vital scholarly
requirements. In psain and other Sephardic areas visual clarity and the ruling scaffoldings which ensured
aesthetic and uniform copying was preferred over low cost. Only in Italy can one claim an economic
ratonaliazation and predilection for the financial considerations. What appeared to be a considerable
increase in ruling input in Italy can be interpreted despite certain reservations as remarkable progress in
ruling pages by mechanical devices, if not by mass production.241

P. Scribal Technique: Line Management

Line management the designates scribal maneuvering at the ends oflines. The term is coined by
Marilena Maniaci as gestione della riga.242 Later in French scholarship line management was called
gestion de la ligne by Ezio Ornato in the concluding overview of the compilation of his and his colleagues

The Dead Sea Scrolls have much to shed light on scribal practices of the medieval ages that they
anticipated by 9 centures.244

One technique of line management involved isolating the last penultimate letter and stretching it and
magnifying it or giving it a tail which was attached to one of its strokes ex post facto, after the
completion of the normal tracing , thus making it reach the left margin line. Another technique of line
management involves lexitomy or word division, placing one segment at the end of the line and the
second segment at the head of the following line, allowing uninterrupted regularity of writing in any

Some scribal practices are revealed in multi hand manuscripts. As well as for identifying and unifying
manuscripts written by the same scribe but not necessarily in the same mode of writing, or even type
of script.245 A sub catergory of this is the case where a colophon of an existing manuscript is copied by
another scripe who adds to it his own colophon.

Beit Arie, Malachi, Unveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew Books, Technical Evolution, p. 31.
Marilena Maniaci, Alla fine della riga: Divisione delle parole e continuita del testo nel manoscritto bizantino
Scriptorium 51 (1997), 192 see also idem, Costruzione e gestione della pagina nel manoscriotto bizantino
(Cassiono: University degli Studi di Cassino, 2002).
La Face cache du livre medieval (Intro, note 1), 662 and 668.
See: Emmanuel tov, Scribal Practices and Physical Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Bible as Book: The
Manuscript Tradition, ed. John L. Sharpe III and Kimberly Van Kampen (London and New Castle, Del: The British
Library and Oak Knoll Press in association with the Scriptorium: Center for Christian Antiquities, 1988). 21-23. Tov
looks at the Leviticus scroll which is written in Paleo-Hebrew script (see David N. Freedman and K.a. Mathews, The
Paleo-Hebrew Levitical Scoll) (11QpaleoLev) (Winona Lake Ind: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1985), 9.
See Malachi Beit Arie, Stereotypes et individualite dans les ecritures des copistes hebraiques due Moyen Age
in Lecriture: Le Cerveau, Loeilet la main; Acted du colloque internationalle due Centre Natiaonl de la Recherche
Sceintifique Paris, College de France 2, 3 et 4 mai, 1988 ( Biblilogia, 10) ed. Collette Sirat, Jean Irigoin, and
Emmanuel Poulle (Turnhout: Brepolis, 1990), 201-19.
An offshoot of this is the rare case in which the same hired scribe or learned copyist copied the same
text twice from the same model within a short time. Comparisons between such copies betray the
astonishing reality that deviation from the examplar is not as it is assumed rightly conditioned by certain
psychological linguistic or mental configurations nor by the copiests spelling habits and pronunciation
for it is a volatile and inconsistent process.246 A Scholar copiest would revise his exemplar, correct it,
and offter critical editing and not mere duplicating. Some learned copiest s saw themselves has having a
duty and mission to improve the copied text by emending corrupted exemplars and offering clarifying
remarks. Some went so far as to critically redact the text they were copying.

Typography would be another way a scribe could employ line management.247

A further aspect of line management would employ the late medieval practice of writing headings and
especiall initial words at the beginng of textual units in large square characters.

Highligting is also a technique witnessed in some medieval manuscripts. Final headings and its openings
and ending eulogies are highlighted in some ms. not merely by being spaced and centered on separate
lines but also by upper decorative markings. The so called Kaufmann Code in the Library of the
Hungarian Academy of Sciences- the most important ms. of the mishna which was copied in Italy
between the late 11th and 12th centuries has headings and endings of ooks and treatises usually on
separate centered lines, in the uniform script of the text but discriminated between them in a
hierarchical manner. The scribe underlined all the headings of the seadrim and most of the massakhtot
and their ending formulas by signing them with simple upper decorative marks.248

A comparison between the headings and endings in the Florence codex of part of the Talmud- the
earliest extand dated Franco-German ms. written in 1177 and those of the Italian Kaufmann Codex of
the mishnah from about the late 11th century elucidates the major evolution of the visual structuring of
the copied text and its seachability that took place in the time span separating their creation.

Sometimes different scripts are found in the same ms. constituting different textual layers. An example
of this the autograph copy of the commentary to the mishnah by Maimonides. The surviving 4 volumes
of the commentary completed in 1168 were written by Maimonides in a semi-cursive script fo the
Andalusian type and served as fair author copies in which Maimonides inserted additions and
modifications and delted or replaced words and phrases over the years. Maimonides wrote the
headings in larger letters in square mode of script. Maimonides sought to control the visual design of

Beit Arie, Transmission of Texts by Scribes and Copyists note 11, 42-3.
See J. Peter Grumbert, Typography in the Manuscript Book Journalof Printing History 22 (1993): 5-28 and
Barbara Frank, Die Textgestalt als Zeichnen: Lateinische Handschriftentradition und die Verschriftlichung der
romanischen Sprachen (Scriptoralia 67) (Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1994), esp. 12-94; also see Bornstein, George,
The Iconic Page in Manuscript, Print, and Digital Culture, (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michegan, 1998).
See facsimile ed. Faksimile-Ausgabe des Mischnacodex Kaufmann A50, ed. Georg Beer (The Hague: Martin
Nijhoff, 1929)
his own work and not leave it up to copyists. In the many drafts of several of his works found in the
Geniza written in his cursive hand, Maimonides insisted on inscribing the headings in larger letters.249

In the late medieval ages initial words and titles were conspicuously highlighted by large characters,
decorations, and occasional illuminations and the deployment of differentiated character sizes. Further
we find marking out foreign words and singling out nomenclatural words, inserting running heads, and
the revolutionary introduction of the paragraph numeration and tables of content.

Q. Funding of Private Commissions

Beit Arie notes a difference between the vast majority of Hebrew ms. and those its latin Christian
analogue. He writes, unlike the ecclesiastical institutional and authoritative framework in which most
Latin and Greek (to some extent also Arabic ) ms. were produced until the high middle ages and unlike
the production and dissemination of many Latin manuscripts by commercial secular ateliers or cartolai
in the late middle ages, the prdocuation of Hebrew codices was never initiated by intellectual
establishments. They were never fabricated in clerical academies or commercial copyin centers. Hebrew
manuscripts wre produced as a private enterprise and they were likewise privately kept and consumed.
They were either privately commissioned from independent hired scribes or were owner produced
books copied for the copyists own use. The individualistic circumstances of Hebrew book production are
firmly attested by the 4 thousand 200 medieval colophons that have survived in extant manuscripts.
Apart from a very few codices written for a community or a synagogue all these manuscripts wre
privately and personally produced. Less than half of them wre copied by professional or semi-
professional or even saule scribes commissioned by private people to produce books for them: the rest
were prepared by learned users of books or scholars for their personal use.250 Institutional
commissioning of ms. production by the church for latin book production allowed for control over the
product by political forces. These sponsorship in the Christian church were carried out by monasteries,
cathedral schools, universities, or commercial outlets which enabled supervision and control over the
propagatin of texts and the standardization of versions. Among Hebrew copiests a few colophons were
copied by women for their or their families use, thus privately.251

R. Scripts

In the medieval ages many scripts were used including Oriental, Italian, Byzantine, Sefardje, Ashkenazic
(Franco-German), and their sub-types.252 Lieftincks253 threefold classification of the levels of execution
of Latin Gothic script (the textualis, hybrid, and cursive has analogues to Hebrew scripts. Julian Brown

See Suliman David Sassoon, Mehqar maqif al ketav yado shel ha-Rambam (Jerusalem: David S. Sassoon, 1989).
Beit Arie, Unveilled faces of Medieval Hebrew books, The nature of Text Transmission, p. 62.
See: Sirat, Collette, contribution to Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana: Treasures of Jewish Booklore, Marking the 200th
Anniversary of the Birth of Leeser Rosethal 1794-1994, ed. Adri K. Offenberg, Emile .L. Schrijver and F.J.
Hoogewood (Amsterdam University Press, 1994), 7.
Beit Arie, Specimens of Medieval Hebrew Scripts, vol. I. note 3, 10-11.
Gerard Isaac Lieftinck, Pour une nomenclature de lecriture livresque de la periode dite gothique
Nomenclature des ecritures livresques du IX au XVI sicle: Premiere colloque international de paleogrpahie latine,
Paris 28-30, avril 1953 9Paris: Service des Publicatons du Centre National de la Recherceh Scientifique, 1954), 15-
expaneded later this classification terming them formata, media, and currens.254 It should be noted that
the letters of the square scripts are formed by many more strokes than those of the semi-cursive ones
and thus take longer and cost more to produce.

By the 12th century it was elaborated to such a degree that the sefardic type could be classified into
fourfold mode: square, semi-cursive, cursive, and current cursive. In other types of script such as the
Ashkenazic and the Italian current cursive writing emerged only in the 16th century. The square mode
crystallized in the Orient before the 10th century as a calligraphic script for formal copies of the
Masoretic version of the Bible but its incepton can be noticed already in the late formal script of the
Dead Sea Scrolls and the Byzantine Hebrew papyri.

Questions arise if the rapid spread of a chieap writing material (paper) in the Islamic orbit or the large
extendt of self production ofJewish books everywhere encourage the emergence of a less formal-
namely semi-cursive script? Did the desite to cut copying costs, save writing material and reduce the
duration of the copying compel patrons, scribes, and copyists to choose a smaller denser and more
cursive script- feature sthat hindered the speed and comfort of reading? Three quarters of the medieval
ms. are written in semi-cursive script.. Cursive was thus the most easy and speedy and less costly mode
for copying. Copying a text in squae script requires a much greater investment of time as the letters are
executed in many more strokes and the flow of the pen is impaired by the decorative elements added to
the bare anatomy of the letters. Moreover a square mode usually claims more writing materials as its
letters are wider than those of the non-square modes and it does not naturally submit itself to a small

According to Sirat the first two centuries in which paper was used as a codex writing material in the
Middle East where paper was used for Jewish books from about 1000 at the latest to the emergence of
a semi-cursive mode coincided with the spread of paper, scribes who used paper wrote by default in
semi-cursive script virtually everwhere and always and only exceptionally and rarely in square script.256
Even Ashkenazic scribes who used the square mode in parchment codices more extensively than did
other scribes, refrained from using it in cheap paper copies. Liturigcal ms. are another matter. Among all
extant colophoned liturgical ms. the semi-cursive mode is slightly more extensively used than the square
one. Further the number of decorated or illuminated ms. written in a semi cursive mode produced in
Italy between 1250 and 1500 almost equals that of those written in a square mode.257 It is possible tha
the Sefardic , Ashkenazic and Italian semi-cursive mode was regarded b y medieval scribes and owners
of books as more beautiful and elegant than the various square modes.

Michelle P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London: Briitish Library,
Beit Arie, Unvveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew, Books, Selecting Modes of Book Script, p. 75.
Sirat, C., ad Glatzer, and Beit Arie, Codices Hebraicis intro note 13 vol 1
Beit Arie, M., Unveiled Face sof Medieval Hebrew Books, Selecting of Book Script, p. 79
PART V. ORAL TRANSMISSION OF ESOTERICA, MiKubalim and Jewish Mysticism258: WHAT is Beyond
the Limits of the Speakable in the [Kabbal]259ah

This section investigates the interplay between oral transmission and esoteric revelatory wisdom. The
phenomena appears that the more esoteric the means of transmission the more dangerous the content
of the Kabbalistic doctrine and more restrictive the group not readuily available to all Jews in an equal
manner. A Kabbalist will pass on his secret wisdom260 to a disciple orally, an act which takes on the
character of an initiation rite only when the disciple is at least 40 and has attained a certain level of
wisdom.261 Qabbalah connotes reception of an occult lore or practice that is transmitted orally. This
transmission can occur in a small coterie of a study group in which older esoteric documents (megillot
setarim) are analyzed, interpreted, and expanded for mystical consequences. The content of the lore
transmitted, hokmat ha-nistar is secretive and thus transmissed to only a small group. In most
Kabbalistic circles the act of imparting the sacred esoteric tradition in oral form establishes a boundary
between initiates and outsiders. Kabbalistic oral traditions are most often intended to be secret,
restricted to a few initiates or illuminati. Alexander Altmann in his essay, Das Verhaeltnis Maimunis zur
juedischen Mystik published in 1936 notes that the esoteric nature of the mystical teachings in
Judaism is expressed by the terms sod (secret), sitrey Torah (mysteries of the Law) and their
equivalents.262 Scholem in distinguishing between mysticism and esoterism maintains that the former
means a kind of knowledge which is by its very nature incommunicable whereas the later involves a
kind of knowledge that may be communicable and might be communicated but whose communication
is forbidden (verboden).263 Moshe Idel puts it this way, Kabbalah is by definition an esoteric body of
speculation whether in its theosophical-theurgical explanation of the rationales for the mitzvoth, or in
the ecstatic trend dealing with techniques of using divine names, estotericism is deeply built into this

On medieval views of oral transmission see: Isidore Twersky, The Contribution of Italian Sages to Rabbinic
literature in Italia Judaica, Atti del I Convegno internazionale- Barri, 18-22, Maggio , 1981 (rome 1983), 386-387
The root of Kabbalah is to receive (kibel) an oral tradition. Thus the phrase qibbalti (I received) is employed in
connection with a theosophic reading of Ex. 20:11 according to which the 6 days of creation are transformed into
symbols for six divine emanations (see Sefer ha-Bahir, ed. R. Margalio (Jerusalem, 1978), par. 57] Qibbel in the
Bahir denotes reception of an exegetical tradition orally. In a second passage we read, R. Rehumai said `Thus I
received that when Moses wanted to know the knowledge of the awesome and glorious name, he said Show me
your glory (Ex. 33:18). He wanted to know why one righteous person experiences goodness and another evil, and
why one wicked person experiences goodness and another evil (Sefer ha-Bahir , par. 194). Thus theodicy is recast
as knowledge of the divine name and permutations of the name of Hashem encrypted in the dNA of the universe.
For a description of the topics of esoterica see Charles Mopsik, Oralite et ecriture dans le Journal mystique de
Rabbi Joseph Karo in Experience et ecriture mystiques dans les religiouns du livre, actes dun colloque
international tenu par le Centre deetudes Juives Universite de Paris, pages 145- 154; Ce que nous appelons
mystiques our experiences mystiques comme des visions des anges ou de Dieu, des ascensions celestes, des
phenomenes doratio infusa comme ceux auxquels nous avons affaire en ce qui concerne R.Joseph Karo, pour
nevoquer que quelque example celebres, pourraient tout aussi bien etre qualifies de crises psychopathologiques
ou dacess delirant.
See: Idel, M., On the History of the Interdiction against the study of Kabbalah before the Age of forty, AJS
Review 5 (1980), Hebrew section 6-9.
See: Altmann, A, Maimonides Attitude Toward Jewish Mysticism in Studies in Jewish Thought, ed. A. Jospe,
Detroit, 1981, 201-202.
Scholem, G., Jewish Mysticism in the Middle Ages, The 1964 Allan Bronfman lecture, NY, 1964, 3-4. See
Schoelm, Kabbalah (Jerusalem, 1974) 4.
lore.264 Secrets are embedded in the matrix of esoteric topics such as cosmology, eschatology, maaseh
hamerkvah, maaseh bereshit, sefirot, angelogy, mysteries of impregnation (sod ha-ibbur)265, levirate
marriage (sod ha-yibbum266), korbanot267, and Ezekiels merkavah268, the mystery of the
tetragramaton269, etc. Secrets are portrayed as being recorded in books of limited circulation
(sometimes secrets are said to be inscribed on heavely tablets that are only accessible to angelic
powers). 270 M.D. Swartz notes that the topos of celestial hidden books whose primary aim is to establish
a reliable chain of tradition as a source of esoteric knowledge continues to influence Jewish mysticism
throgu the generations.271 Sefer Ha-Zohar makes mention of reference to to these hidden books of
estoric secrets.272 Thus for example the milieu of the Iynun circle in 14th century Spain gave rise to the
Kabbalist Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi who in his commentary on Sefer Yetsirah gives over that the
teacher of Adom Kadmon was Raziel, and that of Shem Yofiel and that of Moses Metatron, and that of
Elijah Maltiel. Each of these particular angels would transmit to his student by means of a book or
orally.273 While the secrets were set down in Hashems archive in a book receiving the esoteric
knowledge is oral reception of angelic disclosure underlying the phenomena of maggidism.

Secret religious doctrine becoming available to the masses is deplorable. Only those deemed fit for
reception of secrets may receive the secret doctrine. Those deemed fit (roy) are frequently referred to
in Kabbalistic texts as those who are loved by the maidens (al ken alamot aheivukha) from Shira
HaShirim 1:3. ,- Implicit in the verse from Shir HaShirim is the play on words of alamot,
maidens, and ha-alamah, concealment. The metaphor of concealment is further found in Proverbs
27:26 kevasim li-levushekha (the lambs will provide you with clothing)274. That is to say the tallit under
the garments contain the mysteries of the world concealed by lambs wool Yet this
metaphor clearly is not only understood by peshat (the literal tallit katon under the garment) but
figurately. Song of Songs Rabbah 1:8 refers to the figure or non-literal sense of scripture as sodah shel

Idel, Moshe, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, New Haven, 1988, 253
See Keter Shem Tov, 29a; Shem Tov ibn Gaon mentions such secrets that he hear orall from his teachers
Solomon ibn Adret and Isaac ben Todros
See Keter Shem Tov, 31b
See Keter Shem Tov, 32b, 41a-42a
See Keter Shem Tov, 39a
Isaac of Acre states that the disciples of Nahmanides reported that they received from the mouth of Ramban
that each mention of the Yod Key vav Key in scripture refers to the supreme divine being, the Cause of Causes, illat
ha-illot. [See Sefer Meirat Einayim 219; Keter Shem Tov, 40b
See: Wolfson, E.R., Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism, Albany, 1995,
156n. 6.
M.D. Scwartz, Book and Tradition in Hekhalot and Magical Literature, Journal of Jewish Thought and
Philosophy 2, 1994, 189-229
See Scholem, G., Major Trends, 174
The depiction of Adam as the first link in the chain of tradition is affirmed by Zohar 1:52a; 2:55a; R. Moses De
Leon, Sefer Sheqel ha-Qudesh, ed. By C. Mopsik (Los Angels, 1996), 17; and the works of Abraham Abulafia and his
disciples edited by M. Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia (Albany, 1989), 17, 151-152
Nachmanides when addressing the topic of sod ha-malbush comments that this is too recondite a subject to
elaborate upon IN WRITING and thus proclaims after alluding to it, but I cannot explain (we lo ukhal lefaresh) [see
E.R. Wolfson The Secret of the Garment in Nahmanides, Daat 24 (1990), 25-49.
torah, the title of one of ibn Ezras works. In bPes 119a in interpreting the words we-limekhaseh atiqu in
Isa. 23:18 this refers to the one who conceals the matters that the Ancient of Days (atiqu yomin)
concealed, and what are they? the Secrets of Torah (sodah shel torah). In bHag 14a it is noted, There
are the scholars who bend (meqammetin) themselves over words of torah in this world; the Holy One
blessed be He, reveals to them the secret (sod) in olam ha-bah, as it says, their foundation (yesodam)
poured out like a river (Job 22:16 , ) . R. Meir in P.a. notes that he who studies Torah for
its own sake (lishma) merits various things, including the disclosure of secrets of Torah, megallin lo razei
torah.Thus the stakes are high, for the toiling in torah in olam ha-zeh and the insights derived is directly
proportional to ones divine reward in olam ha-bah but the motivation should be for its own sake,
lishmah. In some sense Shir HaShirim is the prooftext of Kabbalistic speculation, die Heiligegeischichte for
all Kabbalistic understanding of the divine name, and the torah as the string of Hashems divine names
encoded in the universe as G-ds DNA.

Indeed Shir Hashirim is the spring board for Kabbalistic speculation by Ezra of Gerona who wrote a
commentary on the text. Ezra of Gerona evokes the chain of transmission by asserting that ?From that
time (biblical) until now there has not been in Israel any gernation that has not received the tradition of
wisdom which is knowledge of the name (yediat ha-shem) through the order of the tradition (qabbalah),
the oral torah. Yet Ezra contradicts himself intentially by later stating that since the Hurban the sages
have scattered referneces to the Kabbalistic truths in the midrashim and the Talmudic aggadot as
remnants for posterity by which the wise philosophers can deduce the truth. Ezra holds that the words of
the sage were said through ruach hakodesh, to arouse the hearts of understanding of the subsequent
sages or enlightened ones, the kabbalists (hamaskilim ha-mequabbalim). Ezra expounds on the mystical
reasons for the mitzvoth and secrets of cosmology as well as saw himself at the brink of messianic
visionary understanding. Ezra understood that imminent messianic redemption began with the onset of
the 6th millennia in Jewish history based on the esoteric teachings of cosmic cylces (shemittot) . The later
is alluded to in his commentary on Shir HAshirim: For now the winter is past (Song, 2:11 ,


, ;) . This refers to the approaching days of repose and coming of menucha in the
messianic era, when Israel will inherit the land of Israel again. Ezra is in conformity with Song of Songs
Rabbah that see Shir Hashirm as the Heigligeschicte from the exodus from Egypt to the future messianic
redemption. Shir Hashirim is the represents the sacred union of masculine and feminine aspects of the
divine of the lover and beloved who will brought together in the ingathering of the exiles who return to
the land dramatized in the dialogue between lover and beloved (geliebte), as a restoring of the shattered
vessels that cast the sparks of divine female and male energy asunder in tzimzum.

In Genesis Rabbah 1:3 the nature of the transmission of secrets is described as being given over in a
whisper. The mystery of the pusek Ps. 104:2 ,
is transmitted in a
whisper. Why? The torah was given in secrecy because of Satan. In emulation fo the Sinaitic event the
secret of the words of torah must be given over in a whisper.275 Kabbalists who have received this holy

See Commentar zum SepherJezira von R. Jehuda b. Barsilai aus Barcelona, ed. S.J. Halberstam (Berlin, 1885),
189 cited by G. Scholem, Kabbalah, Jersualem 1974, 6; According to Judaah ben Barzillai al Barceloni the first of
the entities created by G-d is the Holy spirit (riah ha-qodesh) also identified as the glory (kavod), Presence
(Shekhinah) and the first of the ten sefirot enumerated in Sefer Yetsirah (see Wolfson, E.R. Through a Speculum
hush meditating in shifting sea sound, often refer to themselves by the expressions: qibbalti ( I received),
qibbaltiha (I received it276), I heard (shemati), shematiha (I heard it). The formula shemati indicates that
we are not being told over statements in a written text but which the rabbi has had told over to him by
his teachers in a chain extending back to Sinai.277 The transmission of secrets by means of a whisper
refelts the rabbinic idea of the manner in which an esoteric matter is handed over by a master to his
talmidim.278 This transmission is given over according to bHag 14a to the one whom it is worthy to
transmit words of Torah that are givne in a whisper (be-lahash). As noted earlier the thematic link
between orality and secrecy is epitomized in the midrashic text when the Mishnah is called the mistorin
(or mistirin, from the Greek mysterion) of G-d.279 The particular context in which this occurs reflects the
polemic against those who wanted to commit the oral torah to writing. The oral torah can be called G-
ds mystery because it should not have been formalized in a written document. The interplay between
orality and textuality in the composition and or redaction of the mishah has gained much attention
recently in academia.280

From its beginning rabbinic Judaism held the primacy of its oral tradition, the oral torah in its formative
compilations, the Mishnah, the Talmudim, and various midrashic collections which had their genesis in
the work of small study-circles whose traditions were passed only orally and the restriction of orality of
these groups is reflected also in the group study of the early Kabbalists.

At some level an esoteric tradition must partake of the recalling of a certain aspect of the primordial
revelation, a fragment of knowledge which reverberates in the very soul of the recipient and Informant
or transmitter. Moses is seen as the prototype of both Recipient and Informant of secret lore. Thus
Kabbalistic traditions are often depicted as stemming from the mouth of Moses, the initiator of the
human chain, behind who stands divine authority, whereby Moses is a vehicle or vessel for oral
transmission of esoteric lore. In the 6th and 7th centuries a genre of texts arose called the Hekhalot. All
of them have used the magical practices of Hekhaolot Zutartei namely the Shimmusha de-Shedei, in
order to climb the ladder of prophecies and powers by means of it. The Shimmusha de-Hekhalei

that Shines, Princeton 1994, 148-160). In response to why the rabbis rarely speak of such a critical idea as the Holy
spirit (rambam does note the Ruah hakodesh will determine the tribes biyamei hamashiah in Sefer Shoftim of the
MT.) Judah writes, The sages did not speak of this explicity so that people would not come to contemplate what is
above Therefore they would transmit this matter to their students and sages in a whisper and privately through
an oral tradition (qabballah). Thus the vehicle (merkavah) of transmission of an esoteric tradition is orality.
In the name of the Mikubal Joseph Gikatilla writes, This is the novel explanation that I RECEIVED (qibbalti) from
the sage R. Joseph Gikatilla, may God watch over and redeem him, concerning the secret of the vocalization of the
unique name (sod niqqud ha-shem ha-meyuhad) which is known to every kabbalist, for it is the root and principle
of everything (cited by E.R. Wolfson from Ms. Cambridge Unviersity Library Heb. Add. 645 fol 20b; MS New York,
JTSA Mic. 1878 fol 26b) in Transmission of Medieval Mysticism p. 220.
Memory and Manuscript: Oral tradition and written transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity,
Copenhagen, 1964, 133.
Bhag 14a, Bershit Rabbah 1:3 eds. J. Theodor and C. Albeck (Jerusalem, 1965), 19-20
Cited previously in Midrash Tanhuma, Wayyera 5; Pesiqta Rabbati, ed. M. Friedmann (Vienna, 1880, 5, 14b
See: Y.Elman, Atuhory and Tradition: Toseftan Baraitot in Talmudic Babylonia (Hoboken, 1994), 71-86; M.
Jaffee, How much orality in Oral Torah? New Perspectives on the Composition and Transmission of Early Rabbinic
tradition in Shofar 10, 1992, 53-72; Jaffee, writng and Rabbinic Oral tradition: On Mishanic Narrative, Lists and
Menumonics, Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 4, 1994, 123-146
Zutartei and Shimmusha de-Shedie is a ladder by which Mikubalim attained reported degrees of
prophecy and its powers.281

Nahmanides in his pirush on Ecclesiastes declares, These issues282 and others like them cannot be
understood properly in any essential way from ones own reason (mi daat atsmo) but by means of
Kabbalah. This issue is explained in the Torah to whomever has heard the meaning of the
commandment by kabbalah as is proper- a receiver (meqabbel) from the mouth of another receiver
going back to our Master Moses who receive it from the mouth of the L-rd.283 It can be concluded that
for Nahmanides esoteric issues under the rubric of kabbalah must be transmitted orally. They go back
to Moses as the original Informant. Nahmanides notes that the oral tradition of mashe merkavah
assumes that there was an oral tradition that goes back to the time of Ezekiel who glimpsed the
reflection of the merkavah in the Chabar river, Isaiahs throne vision in haftorah Yetro, and to Elijah
himself ascending in a fiery chariot. The orality of the transmission of this subject at best could be
reduced in written form only to the chapter headings, roshei peraqim. Yet the Ramban in Torat ha-
Shem writes,

I am perplexed for I see that the Torah speaks of the account of creation (maaseh bereshit) and
cosmology (hokhmat ha-yetsirah) but I do not know where it alludes to the account of the chariot
(maaseh merkavah). The supernal chariot (merkavah ha-elyonah) which is the knowledge of the
Creator, is written in the Torah, but I do not know where there is an allusion (remez) in the torah to the
chariot of the palaces (merkavah shel hekhalot). Perhaps it was an ORAL TRADITION until Ezekiel and
Isaiah (hafotorah Yetro) came and gave it textual support.284

Spanish Kabbalah of the 13th century may be characterized by 3 dominant trends: (1) linguistic mysticism
(contemplation of the divine holy Hebrew alphabet), (2) theosophic Kabbalah (speculation o the ten
dynamic powers that complete the pleroma of divine energies, referred to as the sefirot laid out earlier
in Sefer HaBahir), (3) prophetic Kabbalah (attainment of divine ecstasy of the unio mystica through
medititative techniques including letter combination and permuations of the divine names). All 3 trends
ascribe that their respective transmission is orally received. Even Moses de Leon in setting down Sefer
ha-zohar, ascribed to Shimon bar Yohai in the tannaitic period, at times confesses the need to conceal a
matter or withhold its full disclosure.285

Sullam ha-nevuot ve-koheteiah. R. Isaac ben Jacob Ha-Kohen, Maamar ha-Atsilut ha-Smalit, ed. G. Scholem,
Madaei ha-Yahadut (Jerusalem, 1927), 120; the term Kabbalah mesura occurs numerous times in this treatise
i.e. gematria, notarikon, temurot, permutation of Hebrew letters, their acronym GiNaT the Garden fo the Nut
serving as a metaphor for mystical speculations. Another esoteric subject is the cosmic cylces of shemittah and
yovel within the system fo the luach. The subject of maaseh merkavah Rambam understands as an allegory for
metaphysics in the Moreh HaNevukhim while other Kabbalists of ecstatic Kabbalah saw it as a visionary
experience, and still others like R. Abraham Abulafia describes the interpretative techniques and mystical practical
techniques to it, li-yoredei limerkavah. Yet oral transmissions of the divine Names and the written permutations of
the letters are inferior to the inner mental pronunciations and oral transmission.
Kitvei ha-Ramban 1:190
Cited by E.R. Wolfson, Transmission in Medieval Mysticism, p. 203
See: Liebes, Y., Studies in the Zohar, trans. By A. Schwartz, S. Nakache and P. Peli (Albany, 1993), 26-34.
Before the flowering of Spanish Kabbalah in the 13th century we can locate oral transmission of the
secret knowledge of the divine name in works like Asher ben Davids Perush Shem Ha-Meforash. This
esoteric work begins with the statement, we have received a tradition in our hands from our
ancestors concerning the theosophic meaning of the tetragramaton.286 Earlier still in the French
exegete Solmon ben Isaac of Troyes and his grandson Samuel ben Meir we find mention of the
technique of ascending to the merkavah by secret knowledge of the shem hamephorash.287 The
description of kabbalah as the knowledge of The Name, is found later in Jewish history in Sheva Netivot

It is Nachmanides and his talmidim who while incorporating all 3 trends of Kabbalah of the 13th century
considered the third trend of attaining divine mystical ecstatic states of prophecy as a peak experience
only for the most mature and fit. While the earlier decisor Maimonides ascribed maaseh ha-merkavah
to metaphysics and maaseh bereishit to physics thus emphasizing the central place of reason in
attaining wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, Nachmanides and his circle were skeptical of the
limits of reason. They were open mystics who alluded to what was beyond speech and the written text.
While true, Maimonides argues that esoteric knowledge is hidden in parables in both scriptural and
rabbinic texts (see Part III, ch.51 of the Moreh HaNuvukhim) and held that these secrts have never been
set down in any systematic way289 but were preserved by Jewish contemplative philosophers originating
from Adam Kadmon, Nachmanides considers the tradition of philosophy suspect given its taint
inherited from the influence of Greak philosophy on it particularly during the Muslim period when many
Greek scientific works were translated into Arabic and which Jewish scholars consulted i.e. Maimonides
and Gersonides. Despite the many differences in hermeneutic strategy and Hashgafa between
Maimonides and Nachmanides there is a basic similarity in terms of the formal acceptance of
esotericism that is linked with orality and oral transmission290 and the need to intentionaly conceal via
the method of intential contradiction291, secret teachings from the masses, ad captum vulgi, so that they
not penetrate the circles of secrecy guarded with the Kabbalistic knowledge more powerful than the
Pentagon. A main difference however remains between Maimonides and Nachmanides while the former
takes the road of knowledge Nachmanides considers science in its limits to be culturaly determined and
what later Thomas Kuhn noted in his controversial thesis that all scientific revolutions are the epitome
of the spirit of their age but represent paradigm shifts that change understanding of the Foucaltian
power-knowledge regime.292 For Maimondies no rabbinic knowledge can be complete or unified if it is

Text printed in J.Dan, The Kabbalah of R. Asher ben David, Jerusalem, 1980, p.13
See: Pedaya, Flaw and correction, 157 n.2
See: Jellinek, A., Philosophie und Kabbalah (Leipzig, 1854), 9. Still further in Gikatillas Ginnat Egoz (Jerusalem,
1989) 343-44 Gikatilla identifies the 22 letters (otiot) which are comprised in AHWY, the letters of the
permutation of the divine name that add up to 22
Guide of the Perplexed trans. S. Pines (Chicago, 1963), Intro, p.7 I.33, p.71, Intro. p.416.
See Altmann, Maimonides Attitude towards Jewish mysticism, 200-219
See Green, Kenneth Hart, Jew and Philosopher: The Return to Maimonides in the Jewish Thought of Leo Strauss.
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
See Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1st. ed.,
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1962
not holistically integrated into a foundation of deep scientific understanding of the current age and time
and place of its context. In a nutshell Nachmanides holds that the truths of Kabbalah cannot be deduced
philosophically by the power of reason or supposition (sevara) is a position that is odds prima facie with
Maimonides who states explicity that he deduced knowledge of the secrets of Torah on the basis of
conjecture and supposition rather than oral transmission from a teacher.293 This is the whole reason of
the manner in which the Guide is sent to Rambams star pupil Joseph who due to geographical
separation received chapters of the Guide which were meant for him because as well as rabbinic
knowledge he possessed scientific knowledge . We find a precedent for Maimonides position in Zohar
Hadash where Rabbi Haggai is told that he can join R. Diostai in his excursion to visit R.Eleazar ben
Arakh (tannaim) if he is capble of comprehending what he hears. Tio this challenge R. Haggai responds `I
have heard the matter of the supernal secret, I have contemplated it, and I have proposed a sevara.294
However for Nachmanides the oral transmission from the mouth of a kabbalistic sage to the ear of a
receiver (mipi295 mequbbal hakham le-ozen meqabbel) is essential for oral transmission.296 Subsequent
to Nachmanides in the 15th century R. Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levy follows in the footsteps of
Nachmanides as does R. Hayyim Vital in the 16th century by rejecting reason as the means to
comprehend or ascertain esoteric wisdom. 297 Thus for Nachmanides and his circle orality and
essotericims are inextricably bound together. The oral transmission process of esoteric must be
shequbbal peh el peh. Thus in extrapolation and intended correction of the Guide Pt. 3 ch.51 the
rejection of reason based on its limits (gevulim) allows Nachmanides to assert that secret transmission
from mouth to mouth allows one and only by oral transmission to enter the chambers of the king,
HaKodosh Baruch Hu. Given Maimonides elitism, it is very rare and far and few in between to find
someone who unqiuly is capable of discovering exegetically via the tribunal of reason based on their
outstanding intellectual capabilities. Thus for the majority Rambam would agree that the option of
transmitting orally esoterica assures the authentiquity of the mysteries of the torah via the hermeneutic
of sod the fourth method of the PaRDES. For Maimondies the threat of forgetfulness is so strong that
transgressing the oral nature of transmission of esoterica overrides that oral nature of kabbalisitic
transmission by which the oral manner in which the secret is disclosed preserves it being kept a secret
by being deliberately allusive. Maimonides however adopts esoteric writing to transmit secrets as
already mentioned because he feared that these secrets risked being forgotten in the crisis of his age
and time. Ideally esoteric matters should be transmitted orally because their ultimate grounding is oral
torah, but give the limits of human beings in history, the unideal world where forgetfulness is a danger,
Rambam broke the law in order to save the law to allow the secrets to pass on from generation to


Guide, 3 Intro, p.416
Zohar Hadash, ed. R. Margaliot, Jerusalem, 1978, 25c
The formulation qibbalti mipi (I received from the mouth of) and shamati mipi (I have heard from the mouth)
again emphasizes the orality of esoterica and its oral transmission.
Perush ha-Ramban al ha-torah, 2 vols, ed. C. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1984) 1:7
See Wolfson, E.R. By way of truth: Aspects of Nachmanides Kabbalistic Hermeneutic AJS Review 14, 1989,
105 n. 6
The central role orality is illustrated in Ramban (1194-1270) works and the following generations of
those who as disciples comment on his corpus. Daniel Abrams writes, I believe that Nahmanides
attitude to the dissemination of his Kabbalah is best expressed by the following 3 rules:

(1) Reliable and authentic traditions are only to be transmitted orally

(2) He who possesses reliable tradition may write of its existence and only hint at its content alone
(3) The non-initiate who reads these hints is discouraged in the strongest terms from speculating of
the meaning of these remezim because all attempts to uncover their full meaning of the
Kabbalistic doctrine without a received tradition are futile.298

For Nahmanides the true Kabalist is not permitted to write down the existence of his Kabbalah but may
reveal a small part of its content to initiates. Thus a ban on speculation of Kabbalah outside of a living
received oral tradition is forbidden.

Rabbi Solomon ibn Aderet (Rashba) was Nahmanides most prominent student. A number of the
students299 of the Rashba constitute a chain of transmission of the Rambans esoteric teachings. The
students of the Rashba produces super commentaries to Nahmanides Commentary on the Torah,
namely Keter Shem Tov by R. Shem tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon300 written between 1198 and 1305,
Beur Leo-Sodot ha-Ramban by R. Joshua ibn Shueib written about the same time, and a third
anonymous super commentary based in part on that of R. Shueib and written between the years 1315
and 1330. Due to the various explanations of Nahmanides in Bahya ben Ashers commentary to the
Torah, written in 1291, it too is a type of super commentary on the Rambans esoterica. Rabbi Isaac of
Acre who travelled to Spain in search of various traditions at the beginning of the 14th century edited ibn
Gaons Keter Shem Tov with the Yalkut ha-Hakham ha-Maskil, and the 15th century copying of ibn
Shueibs Commentary alongside that of ibn Gaon.

In a ms. From Parma the Kabbalah of the Rashba influenced by Ramban is presented in an unorganized
series of a few hundred entries which begin with the words, Another matter (inyan aher).301 A more
organized arrangement of Rambans esoteric writings is found in the writing of Sefer Maarkehet ha-
Elikhut, a systematic presentation of Rambans Kabbalah which has a complex structure. Ramban
stresses that oral transmission is the main medium for conveying the secrets and that his literary work
contains only hints.302 The reception history of Rambans esoterica must be based on comments
concerning the limited sections of his literary work and the body of oral traditions. An abridgement
titled, Secrets of the Torah, meticulously abstracts every statement where Nahmanides tops short of a

Abrams, Daniel, Orality in the Kabbalistic School of Nahmanides, Jewish Studies Quarterly, vol. 3, issue 1, 88.
Rashba, Sheshet of Catalonia (Mercadell), Isaac todros, and David Ha-Kohen are listed as students of Ramban in
Kabbalistic matters in Scholem, Germson, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 384 & in Idel, No Kabalistic Tradtion, p. 65
Judah ibn Yakar was a teacher of Ramban.
Ibn Gaons teachers were Isaac Todros and Rashba
See Scholem, Gershom, Origins of the Kabbalah, p.392, n.67
Ramban writes everthing is written in the Torah either explicitly or implicitly (ha-kol nikhtav ba-torah be-ferush
o be-remez (Perush ha-Ramban al ha-Torah 1:3). Nachmanides reasons for if all wisdom could not be extracted
from the Torah, that would imply that the torah was deficient. This is confirmed in gemaria in that the torah begins
with beth and ends with lamed which corresponds to the 32 paths of wisdom.
full Kabbalistic explanation being sensitive to terms such as sod, remez, and al derekh ha-emeth. These
key terms signal Nahmanides own directive not to write further about Kabbalistic matters.

Ibn Gaon is astutely aware that Nahmanides polemicized in the introduction to his commentary on the
Torah against anyone who tries to understand his work through reason or without a received oral
tradition. He writes:

And now make an effort to know this introduction and to receive an explanation of it orally for in this
way or through this method you will come to understand better the remezim of the Rabbi may his
memory be blessed. And even though I hint to you concerning each and every remez and I add light to
each one, you should not believe that reason will suffice to understand Rambans view.303

This can be seen as ibn Gaons attack on Aristotelian philosophy, with its emphasis on the sufficiency of
reason, as being insufficient and at a much lower level than Rambans esoteric teachings. Ibn Gaon goes
on further to describe closing the gates before those who engage in speculation. These prescriptions
for secrecy resemble and correlate to the mystical paradigms of concealing teachings from the many ad
captum vulgi.

Ibn Shueibs commentary on the torah develops the Rambans concept of the upper masculine waters
and the lower femine waters. Ibn Shueib writes:

And G-d said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters This concerns the account of
Creation. Dont expect me to write anything about it (see Rambans commentary, ed. Chavel, I., p.18).
And we (ibn Shueib) have not received anything about it. But the sage R. Ezra hinted about the
aggadah of the upper masculine waters and the lower femine waters. 304

Ibn Shueib refracts the chain of transmission of the Ramban through ibn Ezra. This way he marshals a
major authority into his camp for interpreting this esoteric matter.

Isaac of Acres work Meirat Einayim is edited with Nahmanides Commentary in mind and Isaac is
extremely sensitive to the importance of not writing down esoteric oral traditions. Isaac writes:

And the author of Keter Shem tov erred a grave error in his interpretation of Nahmanides comment and
because he made such an error it is impossible that he received it, rather what he wrote is based on his
own reasoning. And if he presented his reasoning such according to the way of truth as if he received it
from a pious Kabbalist, then his sin is very great indeed. And I have explained this matter in the
periscopes of Beshalah, and if he received this from THE MOUTH OF HIS TEACHER, he should have
mentioned his name.305

Ms. Vatican Barb. 119, fol. 95b-c
Tishby, Commentary on the Talmudic Aggadot of Rabbi Azzriel fo Gerona, Jerusalem, 1943, p.36. On p.36-37
Tishby lists further uses of Ezras work.
Meirat Einayim, ed. Goldreich, p.245, cited by Levinger, p.11; see also Scholem, Origins of Kabbalah, p.384.
As late at 16th Century Safed the cabbalist and Talmid Mevuhak of ha-Arie HaKodesh, Rabbi Chayim Vital
sets up Lurianic Kabbalah as a direct link in the chain of transmission of the Ramban who received oral
torah of esoterica. Rabbi Vital writes:

Do not go near any of the later Kabbalistic works written after Nahmanides may his memory be
blessed because following Nahmanides the path of wisdom has been hidden from the eyes of all wise
men and nothing is left to them except a few branches of their introductions, lacking their roots. And
upon this the later Kabbalists based their words according to human intellect (which is insufficient).306

Rabbi Vital is bridging the gap from Ramban to Lurianic Kabbalah. Acknowledging that Rambans
warning that his Kabbalah could only be received in oral tradition, Rabbi Vital claims authority for that
transmission. Meir Poppers writes in his 17th century work Torah Or commenting on Rabbi Vital:

Nahmanides commentary is very profound, who can understand it. And there is no one who
understands his meaning to its depth. And R. Isaac of Acre composed a work called Meirat Einayim,
written according to the wisdom of the early Kabbalists . and also his words are obscure. Therefore I
have chosen to delve into it so that maybe I will understand something of it. And I saw that after I read
Rabbi Chayim Vitals Ez Hayyim and ate from the fruits of its words almost all his words became clear
and need no explanation. Therefore I have been encouraged to compose a commentary to the words of
Nahmanides and his Kabbalistic hints, to the degree that I understand them. According to the
haqdamoth of R. hayim Vital and I am not transgressing the instructions of Nahmanides because I have
received them orally from a wise Kabbalist, from one ear to the another ear, and I am writing nothing
which arises from reason.307

C. Abraham Abulafia : Further Emphasis on secret oral transmission of Essoterica

Abulafia enumerates 3 principles of Kabbalah as follows308:

Sefer Ez Hayyim, Jerusalem 1988, vol.1, p.19
Quoted in Schoelm in his description of Ms. Jerusalem JNUL 4 108, in his Catalgus Codicum Hebraicorum, p. 146.
This passage is printed as well in the edition of his complete work Jeruslaem 198, p.1-2
See: Sefer Mafteah ha-Hokmat. The three levels of religious perfection include: (1) the simple or contextual
meaning (peshat) corresponding to the righteous tsaddiq) (2) the secrets of torah known throught he way of
philosophy or science (sitrei torah al derekh hakhmei ha-mehqar) i.e. the allegorical meaning concerning the
Hasidim, and (3) the comprehension of the text as an amalgam of divine names corresponding to the prophets
(neviim). (see Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics, 109-111). Nachmanides and his circles adopted the third
way while Maimonides believed prophecy could be attained by philosophic contemplation grounded in scientific
knowledge. Nachmanides radically holds the position that the comprehension of the divine text is an amalgam of
divine names corresponding to the prophets (neviim). In Abulafias own words, If you want to reach the levelof
torah where you will be prophets, you must follow the way of prophets, for their way was to combine all of the
letters of the torah, and to grasp it from beginning to end as the way of holy names, as the true tradition (ha-
qabbalah ha-amitit) which has come to us in the entire torah as the names of the Holy one blessed be He, from the
bet of bereshit to the lamed in leeinei kol yisrael. In Sitrei torah Abulafia further categorized 3 grades of sages: (1)
the prophets (nevim) who are forced by the divine influx to speak or write (2) the wise of heart (hakhmei lev) who
speak through the holy spirit and who write books on divine wisdom according to what they have received orally
form the prophets or indirectly from their compositions, and (3) philosophers, however rare they are, (hoqrei
mada) who attempt to understand the hidden matters through their own understanding and reason.
letters, combinations of letters and vowels their acronym is AZN which can be permutated as TzoN
the permutation controls the letters, the vowels control the permutation, and the spirit of man, given by
G-d controls the vowels until they cause the emergences and illumination of the concept proper (for any
intelligent Kabbalist.309 Kabbalah sikhlit requires a foundation of wisdom, understanding, and
knowledge on the part of the recipient of oral transmission. R. Abraham Abulafia however confesses
that a low level of Kabbalah can be transmitted in books in his Sefer ha-Hesheq where he classifies orally
transmitted kabbalistic traditions when writing, In order to understand my intention regarding the
meaning of the qolot (voices), I shall hand down to you the well-known qabbalot, some of them
[which have been] received from mouth-to-mouth from the sages of our generation, and others that I
have received from books called Sifrei Qabbbalah, composed by ancient sages, the Kabbalists, blessed
be their memory, concerning these wondrous matters, together with other traditions bestowed on
me by G-d, blessed be He, which came to me from ThY in the form of the daughter of the voices310,
those being the higher qabbalot (qabbalot elyonot).311 The revelation of those higher qabbalot elyonot
is for those who are mevin (one who understands) and hakham (wise) and knowledge (a daatan).
Esoteric lore is transmitted only to one who understands on his own (mi daato), is wise , and has
knowledge. Oral teachings provide Kabbalists with the techniques for attaining mystical experiences.
Abulafia clarifies, The purpose intended by the ways of Kabbalah is the reception of the prophetic
divine and intellectual influx from G-d Blessed be He, by means of the Agent Intellect, and causing the
descent of blessing, and providing the means of the Divine Name for the individual and the
community.312 In Sefer ha-Tseruf Abulafia writes of the transmission process:

Whatever is transmitted concerning the lore (merely constitutes) chapter headings and requires
intellect to understand. That is why it is called intellectual Kabbalah and is unlike other sciences, that
is the propaedeutic ones which are transmitted alone, but this lore known as Kabbalah is impossible
to transmit in toto orally nor in written form, even for thousands of years. An no matter how great the
Kabbalists interpretive effort, everything remains but a hint of the chapter headings.313

From Abulatfias Sefer Shomer Mitsvah we again encounter the prohibition of writing down Kabbalistic
secrets. Abulafia notes:

The Kabbalist may not reveal (kabbalistic secrets) and explain them in writing, but he should disclose
one handbreadth while covering two. But when the Kabbalist encounters a person who is prepared
Idel, Moseh, Transmission in 13th Century Kabbalah, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality, and
Cultural Diffusion, Yale Univ Press: New Haven, 147.
Bat Qol is related to Qolot (voices) and Qabbalot (minus ba) is also implied in the idea that traditions coming
from above are voices.
Cited by Idel, Moseh, Transmission in 13th Century Kabbalah, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality,
Textuality, and Cultural Diffusion, Yale Univ Press: New Haven, 151
See Idel, Moshe, Transmission in 13th Century Kabbalah, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality,
and Cultural Diffusion, Yale Univ Press: New Haven, 152; Idel notes that Kabbalists of the secondary elite were
converned with their own mystical experiences or the avenues open to the realization of such experiences, namely
mystical techniques. Thus while Nachmanides a belonging to the primary elite saw Kabbalah as a store of
traditional teachings, Abulafia and other innovative Kabbalists like Gikatilla and De Leon can be envisaged as artists
of Kabbalah who transformed it into an art of praxis.
Cited by Idel from MS. Paris BN 770, fol. 175b
and worthy of having these secrets revealed to him orally, he should first reveal two handbreadth
while covering one. And if the recipient will receive it, and really desire to complete what he has
begun, some topics may be revealed, in accordance with the recipients capacity to receive them;
these topics should not be hidden from him, though they are by nature hidden and occult and
essentially concealed314

Abulafia continues to emphasize the importance of not writing down esoteric and secrets in the same
treatise where we learn further:

Despite the fact that wondrous secrets [sodot niflaot) emerge out fo their numbers (gematriot) these
secrets [ sitreihem] should be taught only orally, and only after much labor concerning the essence of
the paths fo Kabbalah, so that the knowledge of truth should not be given to the recipient in a
random manner. But it is necessary that at the beginning he should put forth great efforts to follow
the ways and paths of Kabbalah, which are the ways which open to gates of understanding, in order
to understand the truth. Whoever wishes to enter the depths of truth according to the Kabbalah must
at the beginning lay the foundation of wisdom and understanding within his heart, i.e. receive oral

According to Idel with the movement of Spanish Kabbalah to Italy at the end of the 13th century mainly
by means of written documents- as evident from the writings of R. Menahem Recanati, and at the end
of the 15th century as can be seen from the writings of R. Yohanan Alemanno the esoteric features of
Spanish Kabbalahs insistence on oral transmission was dramatically reduced, although the culture of
orality prevailed for transmission of esoteric lore. As late as R. Abraham Cohen Herrera a 17th century
Kabbalist in Amsterdam, emphasis still remains on the oral transmission from master to disciple of
esoteric lore.316

Abulafia in his Or ha-Sekhel as a preface to his exposition of the secret concerning the motif of the image
of Jacob engraved on the throne of glory writes, verily at this time that which was hidden has been
revealed because forgetfulness has reached its limit, and the end of forgetfulness is the beginning of
rembrance.317 Thus cultural amnesia was a rationale for disclosing hidden secrets in an esoteric
manner. Although Abulafia conformed to the kabbalistic position that what is truly esoteric cannot be
written he recognizes that the forgetting of these secrets legitimates their being set down. Despite the
obvious influence of Maimonides on Abulafia the position that kabbalah is the transmission and
preserving of mystical truth that is oral, a prophetic tradition unique to the Jewish people [thus agreeing
with R. Yehudah HaLevy) Abulafia departs from Maimonides holding that kabbalah transcends the
bounds of human reason.

Abulafia, Shomer Mitzvah fol. 48b. cited by Idel
Abulafia Shomer Mitzvah, fol. 78a, cited by Idel
See: Puerta del Cielo
Cited by Wolfson, Elliot R., from Ms. Vatican Biblioteca Apostolica ebr 233, fol 97b
Like Nachmanides Abulafia emphasizes that the Torah in its entirety is the encryption of Hashems holy
names. This idea is also found in the work of the German Pietists318, theosophic Kabbalists319, and Rabbi
Sedeqiah ben Abraham author of the halakhic compendium, Shibbolei ha-Leqet.320 A later text that
expounds on the mystery of the string of divine names is Sefer ha-Temunah321. As noted before the
foremost expounder of this idea of the Torah as the encrypted string of G-ds divine names is
Nachmanides in his Kadmah li-perush ha-torah. For Nachmanides this esoteric doctrine is qabbalah shel
emet.322 On numerous occasions Abulafia paraphrases Nachmanides.323 The emphasis again is on the
orality of this tradition and its oral transmission, for according to Abulafia the exegetical decoding is the
aggregation of holy names of Hashem which is the true oral torah in its essence that cannot be
committed to writing.324 In Abulafias ShevaNetivot ha-Torah in which Abulafia describes the 7
hermeneutical paths of interpretation, the seventh path is known as truth and essence of prophecy
which consists of the matter of the knowledge of the comprehension of the essence of the unique
nameof Hashem.. It is not appropriate to write in a book the substance of this path, which is called
holy and sanctified, and it is impossible to transmit any traditions, even the chapter headings, except if
one who desires it has at first orally received the knowledge of the 42 letter name325 and the 72 letter

See Woflson, E.R. Mystical Significance of Torah-Study in German Pietism in JQR 84, 1993, 43-78; Dan, Joseph,
Esoteric Theology, 124, n.45 and Idel, Moshe, The Concept of Torah in the Hekhalot and its Evolution in the
Kabbalah, Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 1, 1981, 47-48
Scholem, Gershom, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. R. Manheim (NY, 1965), 37-39; Scholem, The
Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbala Diogenes 79, 1972, 76-77.
Idel, Moshe, Concept of Torah 54, n.10
See Scholem, G., The secret of the Tree of Emanation by R. Isaac: A Treatise from the Kabbalistic tradition of
Sefer ha-Temunah, Qovets al Yad 5, 1951, 67 n.2; This text represents a stage of Castilian Kabbalh preceding the
generation of kabbalists referred to Schoelm as `gnostic circle which included Jacob and Isaac ha-Kohen [see D.
Abrams, The Book of Illuminations of R. Jacob ben Jacob HaKohen, PHD Disseration, NYU, 1993), and their
disciple s Moses ben Simeon of Burgos and Todros ben Joseph Abulafia. Sefer ha-orah of Jacob reflects this
concern further for the Hebrew alphabet and the names of G-d encrypted in the Torah. This orientation which also
focuses on the nature of letters, nikudot, and cantillation also has correlary repetoir of concern in Rabbi Joseph
Gikatillas Ginnat Egoz as well as the circle to which Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon belonged in the early stage of his
life (see Farber, A. On the Sources of R. Moses de Leons Early Kabbalistic System in Studies in Jewish Mysticism
and Philosophy and Ethical Litererature presented to Isaiah Tisby on his 75th birthday (Jerusalem, 1986), 67-96. It is
possible that this linguistic mysticism and language hermeneutic may have been transported from German Pietists
to Castile.
Scholem, G., On the Kabbalah, 38; Idel, Moshe, concept of Torah, 52-55.
Idel, Moshe, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics,46-47, 66, 171n.
Idel, Moshe, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics, 48-49.
Moses ben Simeon of Burgos, A Castilian Kabbalist active in the 2nd half of the 13th century begins his
commentary on the 42 leter name of G-d as follows: We have a complete oral tradition from R. Hai, blessed be his
memory who received from the Geonim going back to R. Akiva and R. Ishmael the High Priest, may peace be upon
them. Cited from E.R. Wolfson from MS. Oxford Bodleian library,1565, fol 95b (see E.R. Wolfson, Transmission in
Medieval Mysticism, p.220). The secret of the 42 letter name is claimed by Moses of Burgos as a textualization of
orality of a channel of an authoritative teaching that is attributed to the Hai Gaon. From this same ms. Wolfson
quotes Moses of Burgos (fol. 95b) as further stating After we have informed you that we have mentioned the
sayings of those who speak by means of the Holy spirit and the sages, blessed be their memory, regarding the
statutus of the greatness of the aforementioned Name of 42 letters, we will write the essence of the names in
their vocalization as we have received and the variant readings that we may have found in the writings of the
Geonim, blessed be their Memory. Qibbalnu (we have received) denotes an oral transmission. After presenting
the vocalization of the 42 letter name, the author writes, Now we shall begin to explain the meaning of the words
name.326 Only a special kind of writing is permitted by one who has received the oral torah and who will
be able to interpret and expand the written allusions.

D. The Magid Mesharim of Rabbi Yosef Karo: The Paradigmatic Case of the Tension between Orality
and the Written Grapheme

Further in the 16th century Rabbi Joseph Karo in the Maggid Mesarim emphasizes the experience of
spiritual elevation as one in essence being that of oral reception of secrets from the Shekhinah. Charles
Mopsik writes:

Dans le cas des experiences relates dans le Maggid Mesarim de R. Joseph Karo loralite occupe une
place preponderante a telle point quil nest nulle part question dune vision de la figure celeste qui lui
adressait des remontrances, des messages sur son avenir, son statut personnel ou des ensiegnements
esoteriques. La mise par ecrit de ces instruction possede un caractere singulier. Une breve analyse de
la nature de cette ecriture peut nous permettere de considerer que la transmission orale par le maggid
represente une sorte de regression a sa situation initiale de Torah sebeal peh, un retour de la
Mishnah et donc de la literature rabbinique a siade ou elle etait encore un pur enseignement oral,
avant sa mise part ecrit sous la forme dun code et de ses commentaires autorises.327

Mopsik further notes, that R. Joseph Karo heard the voice of the Shekhinah giving over to him the Sitrei
Torah, and the act of writing down his dreams of this voice of divine secrets presents an interesting
dynamic given the interdiction of writing down such secrets. Mopsik notes further:

R. Joseph Karo comme lon sait recoit les enseignements dun maggid qui nest autre que la Misnah
elle meme, qui par son relevement sous la forme dune figure divine ou Angelique redevient LA VOIX
la Torah orale, authentiqument orale quelle naurait jamais du cesser detre. La stricte oralite des
revelations de cette VOIX qui sexprime par la gorge de R. Joseph Karo est la garante de lauthenticite
du message et confirme le matre dans son statut de matre de la Torah orale. Cette regression de la
torah orale a sa realite materielle as sa proper oralite perdue quelle retrouve par le biais de Karo,
assure a ce dernier un statu de heros ou de martyr de lenseignement oral. La Voix de la Misnah lui

and letters by way of proper tradition (al derekh qabbalah nekhonah) from the learned of the world of kabbalists
(geonei olam mequbbalim) from the secrets of their exalted and inner intentions to edity wonderous matters.
Scholem, G., Philosophie und Kabbalah, 4-5
See: Mopsik, Charles, Oralite et ecriture dans le Journal mystique de Rabbi Joseph Karo in Experience et
ecriture mystiques dans les religiouns du livre, actes dun colloque international tenu par le Centre deetudes
Juives Universite de Paris, p. 148; Mopsik notes further, Un problem interne a la tradition rabbinique a ete le fait
quelle viole un precept important de la societe juive ancienne en mettant par ecrit les traditions orales, les rabbins
ont transgresse ce quils consideraient comme un interdit dune tres grande gravite. Meme sic et interdit a ete
viole en function dune conttrainte exerieure majeure, la crainte dun disparition de la memoire doctrinale et
religieuse autoriesse du people juif a cause de la persecution et de la dispersion, la Torah orale a conserve et ce
titre paradoxal de Torah orale puisquelle a ete mise par ecrit ) et la nostalgie de lepoque lumineuse ou elle
pouvait pleinement sepanouir sous une forme exlusivement orale.
annonce tres frequement pour sa plus grande joie, quil finirait sur le bucher a cause de la
sanctification du Nom Dieur.328

Rabbi Karos setting down of the oral torah of the voice of the Shekhinah personified materially as the
Mishnah is an act of regression into corporality that originally was represented by the setting down of
torah by Moses on Mt. Sinai. The materialization of the Mishnah by R. Yehudah haNasi as an experience
is also the experience had by R. Joseph Karo in setting down his dreams where the Mishnah spoke to
him in visions giving over the secrets of torah. His act of de sa mise our remise en voix un debouche et
un expression reconfortante, constitutes Regressio ab oriigne de lecrit vers loral, de loeil vers loreille
ou de loeil vers la bouche Mopsik writes:

le fait dentendre avec se propres oreilles la Torah se beal peh a linstant des matire ancient du
Talmud confere a R. Joseph Karo la confirmation d son statut de matre insigne, auquel plusieuers
passages de son Maggid mesarim font allusion come sil eprouvait le besoin pressant detre assure
dune position sureminent au sein du people juif dont il se voulait le guide et linstuctuer

Not only a master of halkah but of Kabbalah thus is assured R. Karo by his dream diary where he
received mouth to mouth communications of the Mishnah personified as the shekhinah. Rabbi Karo
covers the prohibition of writing down secret oral Kabbalistic traditions by encoding his Maggidh
mesharim in difficult Aramaic idioms.330 This language of Rabbi Karo differs from the Beit Yosef and
Shulchan Arukh. It is an esoteric language of Aramaic from the idiomatic forms of Sefer Ha-Zohar and
the Aramaic of the Talmudim of medieval rabbis. This constitutes a return to a sign of oral teachings and
its prohibition to be written down. R. Karo covers two handbreadths by revealing one handbreadth in
the language of Abulafia. Those who do not know the Aramaic of the Zohar thus cannot access the
Magid Mesharim. Thus the readership of the Magid Mesharim is encoded in encryption purposefully by
R. Karo to keep secret from the masses the esoteric lore. It also protects the intimate journal of his
dream life and his experiences mystical by redacting them perplexingly that gives primacy to their
original transmission from a celestial voice of the Mishnah personified as the shekhinah. R. Karo has
hidden by writing the extradinary secrets revealed to him in his dream life by the particular nature of his
act of writing via concealment. The oral revelation is thus protected by the walls of the language of the
transmission so that the marvelous secrets are not democratized for the many but only the elite who
has access to the language of the Zohar and Talmudim. The profundity of the mystical experiences
demands such a mode of writing of that protects by concealment. Rabbi Karo like R. Abulafia speaks to
the unwrittability of such a revelation.331 Rabbi Karo received a revelation from the mouth of the

Mopsik, Charles, Le Journal mystique de R. Joseph Karo, p. 149.
Ibid, 149
Mopsik notes, Un autre element peut encore renforcer ce processus de retour a loralite de la Torah orale mise
par ecrit est le fait que R. Joseph Karo a partillement redige son livre inspire ou dicte par son maggid en une sorte
Mopsik cites the French edition of the Maggid Mesharim by transcribing: Mais le secret de la chose est le secret
des secrets, dissimule a lextreme dune prondeur inaccessible dont na eu connaissance aucun sage qui ait ete au
monde. Et i lest impossible de le saisir a moins quil ne soit transmis oralement (litt. De bouche a bouche) car son
nom est qabbalah (reception), cest pourquoi il faut le recevoir de bouche a bouche, et il nexiste personne qui
Mishnah to his mouth according to consecrated expressions found in the Zohar. Rabbi Karo confers an
esoteric teaching that was revealed to him in his mystical dreams. The act of writing down this oral
transmission of the voice of the Mishnah was an act of concealment by writing. Thus orality and writing
are the two phases of a process of celestial revelation of the mystic towards the collectivity. The
substance of the mystical transmission in writing is concealed by the nature of its linguistic purity and
difficulty so that the writing retains the mystical character of the original oral transmission of the voice
of the Mishnah carried over in the semantic power of writing as an act of concealment paradoxically on
the other hand as an act of revelation. Writing as trace, is the reformulation of the original mystic
experience of the divine dream life of R. Karo put in writing in an elusive manner. This elusively is
demanded by the very nature of the prohibition of writing down oral torah, especially esoteric oral
torah of Kabbalistic mystical experiences.332 Thus orality itself is esotericism333 and encoded in the
corpus of Rabbinic texts. It is concealed by the act of writing down oral torah purposefully for the nature
of this esoteric demands concealment in writing. It is Rabbi Karos authority in halakhic matters that
gives authority to his esoteric transmissions of mystical experiences whereby revelations were given
over by the Shekhinah personified as the Mishnah to the halakhist turned Kabbalist. Orality and writing
are thus the dynamic that is in tension in a work like the Maggid Mesharim. It is a paradigm itself of the
esoteric nature of the prohibition of writing down oral torah that pervades the culture of orality of
Rabbinic society and culture. The oral transmission of secrets by Rabbi Karo is hidden (caches)
intentionally by the manner of its beings set down. In putting to sleep (En couchant par ecrit) by writing
these marvelous revelations given over to R. Karo the written text commands the reader/learner to hear
the celestial voice of the Mishnah which can only be done in full by learning the total corpus of Rabbinic
texts to which Rabbi Karo was a master. The voice of the Mishnah in demanding of R. Karo to put to
sleep by writing the esoteric teachings encrypts into their writing the importance of the relationship
between the nature of the oral and the written. Thus the necessity of an internal spiritual mystical
experience that cannot be written down, yet must be written down, constitutes a facet of the revelation

Part VI WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN?: The Medieval Landscape, an Overview

lamis par ecrit et y a fait allusion de quelque facon, a lexception de Simeon bar Yochai mon fils, qui y a fait qulque
peu allusion dans le Zohar mais nul home nest capable de le comprendre sil ne lui a pas ete transmis de la
maniere que jail dite, et ce secret des secrets est une perle preciuese cest un beau cadeau que je vais te donner
parce que tu as acheve letude de six order de la Mishna (Maggid mesarim fol. 34b)
Mopsik writes, du travail de mise par ecrit dune Torah orale qui nen finit pas de sourdre de la Bouche divine.
Contariement a la dimension exoterique ou halakhique de la Torah orale qui a ete entierement couchee par ecrit
par les matre de jadis sa dimension esoterique et percue comme nayant ete que tres partillement revelee dans
les ouvrages classique de la Qabbale et attend donc des homes de merite et des mystique comme R. Joseph Karo
pour connattre une etape supplementaire dans sa revelation (p 153).
Mopsik writes, Loralite qui fait loi, la parole magistrale qui enonce le varia doit obligatoriement etere fixee par
ecrit non seulement pour etre communiqu et transmise mais surtout peut etre pour quelle sinscrive dans le
standard de la literature canonqiue de la torah orale. Ainsi la necessite interieure dune experience mystique et la
neceisset impossee par la norme collective se rejoignent se renforcent lune lautre et finalement ne font quun.
Dans le cas de R. Joseph Karo, lexperience mystique strictement orale est objectivee par le travail decriture de
lexegese esoterique ou thesophique. La Qabbale theosophique nest pas eliminee par lexperience mystique mais
au contraire elle y trouve sa legitimation et un mode de revelation important (p. 154).
The evolution of Jewish medieval classification of library collections evolved over the Tannaitic (70 CE to
200 CE), Amoraic (200-500 CE), Savoraim (500-600) Geonic (600-900), Rishonim (900-1450), Achronim
(1450-Shoah)periods as the genres of Jewish knowledge expanded and the world of Jewish knowledge
developed in an oral tradition that later was set down. Mordecai Breur, Ephraim Kanarfogel, Isidore
Twerski, Adin Steinsaltz, and Nathan Drazin have shown that this evolution of the Jewish library within
the context of Jewish educational institutions such as the medieval Yeshivot, Rabbinic Academies, Beit
Midrashim, Synagogues, and self-regulating Jewish Communal government (kehilah) allowed for the
classification and organization of manuscripts and sefarim to remain internally coherent.

The halakhic process of torah shel bapeh (oral law) expressed itself in the way manuscripts and later
sefarim after the printing press (Gutenberg, 1450 CE) were organized in these institutions. For example
the lecture notes of the students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai who met in a vineyard in Yavne during
the Tannaitic period and constituted the displacement of the Sanhedrin from the Lishgat Hagazit
(Chamber of Hewn Stone), differed from those of the notes of the masses of talmidim (students) during
the Yarchei Kallah of the Geonic Babylonian Geonic Academies of Pumberdita and Sura. Jeffrey
Rubenstein (the Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, JHU Press) has noted how the Savoraim wrapped up
the Amoraic period by putting the finishing touches on the gemarah as a written text. The redactors of
the Babylonian Talmud regularly register variants in the names of tradents335 and in traditions regarding
essential legal points. These variants, which are almost all the creation of errors of association of
hearing, rather than scribal in nature, also allow one to gauge the effect of such transmission. As
Shamma Friedman has suggested scribal activity produces similar variants as well but by intentional
scribal editorial activity.336 Pervasive variation thus can result from scribal setting down of oral tradition
into a written tradition which can shed light on the mutual interaction of oral and written texts within
the process of learning texts. Martin Jaffe shows based on Greco-Roman grammatical and rhetorical
transformations beginning with the mastering of the memorized text itself how the Roman orators
appropriation of the text of a chreia ( a concise statement i.e. Rabbinic memra) worked it orally through
a serious of rhetorical transformation. 337 Jaffee concludes that Yerushalmis exegetical engagement
with the Mishnah seems to be aware of both oral and written transmitted sources. 338 Nevertheless
Jaffee illustrates the differences between Palestinian and Babylonian rabbinic cultures, namely the
prohibition of recording rabbinic legal tradition in writing was much more stringently observed in
Babylonia than in Palestine. Daphna Ephrat and Ellman investigate another aspect of orality, one whch
carries through into the medieval period in Europe: oral transmission as a source of authority. Their joint
chapter on Jewish and Islamic institutions of elite education in the 11th and 12th centuries in Iraq
attempts to appraise the effect of the increasing availability of writing on the organization of learning

Tradents seem to have reongized three genres of rabbinic material in regard to textual inviolability: (1) strictly
legal materials, where the rnage of permitted variation is narrow, (2) Talmudic dialectic, where the greater
freedom is permitted, and (3) anecdotes and narrative material which is handled with much greater freedom.
S.Y. Friedman, Le Hithavvut Shinnuyei ha-Gisaot ba-Talmud Ha-Bavli Sidra 7 (1991), 67-102.
See: Peter Schaeffer (ed.), The Talmud Yerushalmi and Greco Roman Culture (Tubingen, 1998), article by Martin
Jaffee; Jaffee applies the Roman model to a case in Yerushalmi in which the latter seems to have drawn on the
information contained in earlier compilations, and have recycled them in its own way, with the addition of a crucial
element, the investigation of the scriptural sources for the rabbinic statements.
Jaffee, Martin, in Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality, and Cultural Diffusions, p. 44.
within the central institutions o the yeshiva and Islamic madrasa. For the Rabbis writing was considered
a threat to the elites authoritative access to the tradition by providing an oral venue for the written
transmission of authoritative texts by means of ijaza.

Local institutions for the pursuit of Talmudic studies developed further in the time of the Rishonim. The
first Yeshivah in southern France was Narbonne in the 10th century. In Lunel, Posquieres, Beziers,
Marseilles, and Montpellier also arose Academies. Rashi learned in Mainz and Worms, and later
descendants of Rashi, the Tosafists, headed Yeshivot at Remerupt (R. Tam), Dampierre (R. Isaac b.
Samuel), Orleans, Falaise, Sens, Coucy (R. Moses b. Jacob of Coucy), Chinon, and of course Paris (R.
Yehiel who debated Nicholas Donin in 1240 which led to 24 cartloads of Talmud volumes being burned
outside of Notre Dame. Even the Tosafists only rediscovered dialectic- they did not invent it, as H.
Soloveitchik noted.339 In Germany of the Yeshivah of R. Gershom b. Judah in Mainz, Yeshivot in Speyer,
Regensburg, Bonn, and the Rhine communities flourished but declined as Jews were blamed for the
Black Death (1348-1349). The Hasdei Ashkenaz in German from whom the work Sefer Hasidim springs
were very ascetic in their tendencies striving for saintliness. Yeshivot arose in Austria in Vienna,
Neustadt, Krems, Prague, and throughout Bohemia.

Yeshivot in Islamic Countries and in Western and Central Europe to the 15th Century flourished in North
Africa and Spain. Yeshivot arose in Maghreb- in Fez, in Gabes, in Sijilmassa, and in Tlemcen. The
Kairouan yeshivah where R. Yakov Nissim was active became renown. In Egypt arose yeshivah in Fostat
and a motion to revive the Geonite was done. R. David B. Solomon ibn Abir Zimra was a leader in
Egyptian Yeshivot. Yeshivot of Eretz Yisrael moved to Damascus and Aleppo. The Spain Yeshivot
clustered in Cordoba, Granada (headed by R. Shmuel HaNagid), Toledo, Lucena. The Almohad invasion
lead to the fall of the Spain Yeshivot and were replaced by the Yeshivot of Aragon and Castile. The
Yeshivot of Barcelona and Toledo flourished in the time of R. Solmon b. Abraham Adret, Asher b. Jehiel,
and Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi in the 14th Century.

During the Achronim period In Italy Talmud academies existed in Venice, Oria Otranto, and Bari, and
Lucca, Siponto, and Rome. An impetus to the study of Talmud in Italy was given in the 15th and
16thcenturies by arrival of exiles from Germany and France. In the Renaissance, Shabbethai b. Joseph
Bass (1641-1781) in Sifre Yeshenim(Amsterdam 1680), lists 2200 Hebrew books, in the alphabetical
order of titles, giving the author, place of printing, year and size of each book, as well as a short
summary of its contents. Bass divided the whole of Jewish writings into Biblical and post-Biblical, and
each group in turn was subdivided into ten sections. Bass' classification is hierarchical classification, in
that it is based as much as possible on the natural organization of the subject, proceeding to form
classes to divisions to subdivisions. Renaissance Italy saw may great Talmudists such Menahem ben
Benjamin Recanati (14th C.), Azaria de Rossi (1511-1578), Yohanan Alemanno (1435-1504), Avraham
Herrera (1570-1635), Judah Moscato (1530-1593), Judah Abarbanel (1460-1523), Moshe Trani, Leon
Modena (1571-1648), Mordecai Dato (1525-1601), Menachem Azariah Ano (1548-1620), David Leon

See: H. Soloveitchik, Rabad of Posquires: A Programmatic Essay, in Studies in the History of Jewish Society in
the Middle Ages and in the Modern Period. Festschrift for Jacob Katz, ed. E.Etkes and Y. Salmon (Jerusalem,
1980), 14.
(147-1526), Ovadia Sforno (1470-1550). Rabbi Israel Saruq brought the Kabbalistic teachings of Rabbi
Isaac Lurria to Italy from Safed which also saw a flourishing of Rabbinic mystical activity during this
period. In Safed Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (1522-1570) Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz,
HaAri HaKodesh and his student Rabbi Chaim Vital (ztsl).

In the 15th to 18th Centuries Jews in Germany, Austria, and Spain saw Yeshivotin Mainz, Nuremberg,
Augsburg, Castile (spain), etc. In the 16th and 17th century witnessed large concentration of Yeshivot
and widespread Torah learning in Poland-Lithuania. Yeshivahheads included R. Shalom Shakhna (Lublin),
R. Isserles (Cracow), R. Solomon Luria (Ostrog Lublin), Maharal (Prague, Poznan, Nikolsburg), R. M. Jaffe
(Prague, Grodno, Lublin), R. Joshua Falk (Lvov), R. Samuel Edels (Ostrog), R. Isaiah Horowitz (Ostrog,
Prague), R. Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (Prague, Vladmir-Volynski, Cracow) and R. Menachem Mendel
Krochmal (Nikolsburg). Lithuania Yeshivot developed at Brest-Litovsk, Pinsk, and Slutsk and in tandem
Italian Yeshivot continued to grow in Padua as well as Cremona, and in Turkey (Constantinople), and
Salonika. German Communities celebrated practical halakhah more while the Sephardic communities
often also focused more on philosophy, aggadah, and minhagim. Ashkenazic Yeshivot like Frankfurt on
the Main, Fuerth, Hamburg,-Altona, Halberstadt, and Metz (France), and even Hungary (Eisenstadt,
Pressburg) devoted themselves to Codification and practical halakhahover the philosophic midrashic and
aggadic parts of the Talmud and Midrashim. Levels of attainment were designated in titles such as
bahur, meshuhrar, morenu, smeikhah, and serving on a beit din. In Lithhuania the Yeshivah system drew
on Baal Batim to support buhurim physically by mandated essentag (eating days) where the students
were fed by the professionals of the shtetl. The Lithuania yeshivot were mainly concentrated in Grodno
(Brest-Litvosk), Vilna, and Minsk (Pinsk, Slutsk). Volozhin near Vilna became a famous center for Talmud
pilpul as championed by Hayyim of Volozhin. There also existed large Yeshivot in Mir (Minsk region),
Vilna. The Yeshivah of Slobodka and Telz were destined to influence greatly the American Yeshivot.
Rabbi Hutner of Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Ruderman of Ner Israel, and Rabbi Aaron Kotler all were students at
Slobodka, near Kovna. Perushim kolel in Kovno was headed by Isaac Elhanan Spektor (d. 1897) who was
Rosh Yeshivah of 200 students. In the last days before the Holocaust many Yeshivah Litewere
annihilated with the rest of East European Jewry. Remarkably the Mir Yeshivah survived by escape to
Shanghai via Transit Visas with the help of the Vaad HaTzalah headed by Rabbi Silver of the Agudas
Yisrael and others. The Yeshivot of Slobadka, Telz, and Ponevezh (panevezyas) in Lithunia, the Polish
Yeshivot of Kletsk, Baronwivichi, Radzyn, Warsaw, and Lublin were not so lucky as Mir.

The Yeshivot in which Rashi learned in Mainz and Worms involved students keeping notebooks
(pinkasim & mahberot), that differed in organization from those later kept by the bucherim during the
network of Lithuanian Yeshivot of which Stampfer, Eckman, and others have written. In the genre of
parshanut, Bible commentaries, once the Soncino and Bomberg press laid out the mephorshim of the
Mikra Gedolot text or in new commentators were forced to the margins and the space limitations led to
star bursts of new genres of secondary and tertiary texts. So too the process of codification of halakhic
works illustrates how once Rashis commentary (on the inside of the daf) on the gemarah and Tosofist
commentaries (on the outer margins of the daf) on it filled up in setting of the Soncino and Bomberg
printing press layout, later with the Rashba, Ran, and Yad Mordecai in the back, the genre of the Vilna
Shas including Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Ayn Mishpat Ner Mitzvah, and Bachs marginalia was forged and
set. Jewish legal knowledge and its organization and classification, had evolved and only later due to the
space limits of the technology of the printing press, its destining for those previous eras was signed and
sealed, but only to continue evolving in the development of secondary and tertiary commentaries and
the genre of the response (teshuvot). So too codification from the Tur, Mishneh Torah, Shulhan Arukh,
and Tur Zahav, Mishneh Berurah also represented a canonization of legal knowledge, but this time in
the genre of the code/digest form rather than the wide ranging scope of gemarah learning. Pilpul, the
Brisker Method, andMusar traditions interpreted these materials with their own particular
methodologies, ideologies, and perspectives.

Thus the expanding content-knowledge of Rabbinic works in either the genres of Talmud, parshanut,
Codification, or Teshuvot in the evolution of the oral law across 2000 years of Jewish history, worked in
tandem with the classification of Jewish library systems to organize manuscripts/codex/pinkasim, and
later after Gutenberg (1450 CE), the book form. Library classification in Jewish history from the Tannaitic
to Achronim periods cannot thus be separated from a knowledge of the expanding evolution of the
textual genes and nature of the halakhic processes of the rabbinic tradition itself, and it is this processes
working in tandem (textual/library & educational/institutional) that is so exciting.

PART VII: RETURN TO ORALITY WITH a Few Medieval Exceptions of Megillat Setarim

This takes one back to the question of early periods such as the Tannaitic, Amoraic, Geonic, and
Savorieim periods. What kinds of collections of Jewish texts existed then, and how were they arranged
and ordered? This topic is more nuanced but approaches have been attempted by scholars such as
Yakov Ellman, Martin Jaffee, Elizabeth Shanks Alexander and many others on the concept of orality and
the fact of pervasive orality indeed and ideology of oral torah that proscribed the writing down of
texts during these periods. Ellman shows for instance that the Bavli in particular according to tradition
redacted by Rav Ashi and Rava was transmitted largely orally in the context of the culture of Babylonia.
Ellman argues that it is Greek, Roman, and Arabic culture that celebrated transmission via the written
word while Rabbinic oral traditions set out an ideology where written texts were less frequently set
down based on a Rabbinic ideology of oral transmission. Even the Bavlis redactors, the stammaim
operated in an oral environment and Jacob Neusner and Peter Schaefer have taken very different
approaches and positions on the redaction process. The verb sadder, suggests to arrange, or redact or
edit. The Aramaic verg taratz suggests to solve with difficulty or as Kohut writes in Arukh Completum
eben gerade sein. Ellman admits that during the Tannaitc, Amoraic, and Geonic periods many
pinqasayot and megillot setarim were written down. However Ellman argues that the Amoraim masters
are hardly ever depicted as having had recourse to written texts with which they were not already
intimately familiar with the exception of larger numbers of collections of written down Aggadata.
Rabbinic culture has an ideology of oral transmission which Rambam In the Introduction to the MT.
drawing on the opening of the famous mishneh from Avot that Moses transmitted the Torah to Joshua
and Joshua to the elders to the prophets to the men of the great Assembly all the way up to the
Rambams own present day 1135-1204. Rambam was very conscious of this ideology of oral
transmission as the text says Moshe Kibel torah miSinai and not HaTorah which Rashi points out, if
it had said hatorah then that would only mean written torah but written torah and oral torah are
coterminous. The Geonim before Rashi put a ban on the disclosure in writing of the secret names of
Hashem by citing the pusek from Shir Hashirim, , ; , .340 The secret of
the great name of Hashem [sod ha-shem ha-gadol] is in this transmission of oral torah.341 Rabbinic
ideology of oral transmission denied the validity of written transmission oral torah. Thus Rambam
justified that the Great Eagle would write down the secrets of maaseh bereshit and maaseh merkavah
and other esoteric matters in the Moreh Nevukim because these esoteric traditions risked being
forgotten in an age of crisis. This was also the logic of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi who is claimed to have
written down the mishneh in the 3rd century although the prohibition of setting oral torah down was
well known. Gershom Scholem in fact argues that his generation lived in a time of crisis and that is the
reason he pioneered academically the field of Jewish Mysticism, a topic the Wissenschaft des Judentum
Beweigung gave sparse attention to. Ironically the Jewish Encyclopedia was written down (1901-1906)
as the culmination and summary of Wissenschaft des Judentum Beweigung scholarship according to
various scholars because its writers brought academic Jewish Wissenschaft from European lands to
America while so much was left out of the Renaissance of Jewish learning in the Wissenschaft period

According to Gittin 60a devarim she-be-al peh you may not write and the Rabbinic class in the Tannaitic,
Amoraic, and Geonic periods (Geonic to a lesser extent) were literate by the Rabbinic society was not
(See Lee Levine). The founder of the Pumbeditha Yeshiva Rabbi Yehudah ben Yehezkel reports in the
name of Rav that a scholar must learn (tzarikh limod) before the stage of ketav, script. Hullin 9a notes
that only the laws of ritual slaughtering and brit millah should be written down. Scribes produced legal
documents of course like Ketubot magnificent illuminated ones which exist on the JNUL and JTSA
websites yet scribes (in Greek Katova) were within the ideology of
preference for oral transmission and written documents according to Beit Arie342 were extremely

Cited by Wolfson, E.R. Transmission in Medieval Mysticism p. 218 based on MS. Oxford Bodleian Library 1953,
fol. 24b; The text ends with the chain of tradition noted in beginning of mAvot: This is the tradition (qabbalah)
received by Moses from the mouth of God at Sinai and he transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and
the elders to the prophets, and the prophets transmitted it to the members of the Anshei Kenneseth HaGedolah
for they were masters of wisdom (baalei hokmah), masters of tradition (baalei qabbalah), masters of fear (baalei
yirah), masters of kavod (baalei kavod), concerning whom it is written, `the secret of Hashem is with those who
fear Him (Ps.25:14 ,;
,) . And they hid it within the secrets of the Talmud (sodot ha-
talmud), for it is all a tradition (given) to Moses at Sinai (qabbalah le-moshe mi-sinai). [fol. 28a as cited by E.R.
See Berit Menuhah (Amsterdam, 1648), 2a; The mystery of the name encodes in this first mishnah of Avot was
transmitted by the sages, from chamber to chamber in great secrecy and with perfect intention, mouth to
mouth. The anonymous author of Berit Menuhah procees to trace the chain of transmission of the secret of the
name that extends from Adam to the Geonim. After the chain is completed mention is made of three angels,
Shamuel (or Shemuel), Metratron, and Yahoel, reveal the secrets of this name to human beings in order to make
known His splendor (Bahir) and the glory of his omnipotent strength [fol. 2b as cited by E.R. Wolfson,
Transmission in Medieval Mysticism, p. 218.] Thus the transmission of esoterica is allied with orality.
Malachi Beit Arie investigates the implication of book culture in the Jewish Middle Ages for the question of
transmission. As he concludes those Jewish manuscripts produced after the middle of the 13th century present
texts no only corrupted by the accumulation of involuntary copying errors, but also distorted by editorial or even
redactional reconstruction, by contamination from different exemplars and versions, and by deliberate integration
expensive. Beit Arie is an expert in noting scribal cultures editing of medieval manuscripts, and
decoding scribal errors and ways. Scribal errors may represent failures in memorization. Though Beit
Arie carefully provides examples of the openness of the medieval Hebrew book to correct, emend and
add to authorial texts from all eras and areas of medieval Jewish culture, this tendency was more
pronounced in Germany than in Spain. Ta-Shemaa notes, this freedom extended to the legal sphere:
German and Northern French authorities upheld local custom against codified law, something that was
unimaginable in Medieval Provence. 343 H. Soloveitchik points out this mindset extended to
interpretation of Talmudic texts.344 Thus French Jewry in its heyday unlike in Spain resisted efforts at
codification. The Spanish tradition harkens back to geonic Babylonia and that of Ashkenaz to Palestine.

Sanh. 57a notes the exception that books of Aggadata (non legal material) existed in the house of Rav
and Rabbi Nahman had them (Ber. 23b) and Rabbi Hisda and Rabbah b. R. Huna also collected this genre
in written form (Shab 89a). R. Hisda was directed to reveal something in his written Agadata collection
(Hul 60b). Nahum Danzig has noted that insistence on oral transmission of legal texts predominated in
Babylonia. Post the Sabboraic Period numerous geonic collections were written down such as Rav Sadia
Gaons Emunot ve Deaot, commentrary on the siddur, etc. and the work of the Hai Gaon, and Sherira
Gaon, and the earliest collection of the taryag hamitzvot, Halakhot Gedolot. Collections of Geonic exist
and were edited by Louis Ginzberg and others. Yet oral transmission in Babylonia was a conscious
choice against and in opposition to Greek book culture in Islamic Iraq. Oral reciters known as garsanim
were given the job of memorization and the term Tanna means a repeater. Even Ben Sason (1989)
admits that written texts under extenuating circumstance were compiled. As late at the 10th century
Rabbi Aaron HaKohen Sargado notes, our whole Yeshiva version of The Talmud (bavli) is from the
mouths of our great teachers who have memorized the text and most members of the yeshiva have
never seen anything resembling a book, and only on layning days see a Sefer Torah.Further S.D. Goitein
further admits that there is a relative paucity of Tamudic MS. In the Geniza collections (1962:15-53,
164) and the earliest COMPLETE edition of Bavli in the Munich ms. From the 9th century. Islamic book
culture and writing of Geonic halakhic response and compendia did certainly proliferate but not the
setting down in writing of Bavli. It was probably in the period after the death of Ravina around 500 CE
that the Bavli took its form. However we do not have time or place for that discussion of the redaction
process In our historical overview of Jewish libraries and collections of texts. The point is: How could
there be Jewish texts particularly in the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods in an culture of the ideology of
oral transmission? Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi justified writing down the Mishnah only during a period of
crisis when the oral text risked being forgotten. Legal decisions of courts were written down in the 7th
century and on as witnessed by Geniza exemplars. Ellman has shown that memory techniques can be
located in Bavli such as mneumonics, ring cycles, chiastic structures, 3x organizations principles etc.
Attention to these linguistic structures often derives from non-Jewish scholarship of oral traditions such
as that of (1) Walter Ong _Orality and Literacy_, (2) An. Doane _Anglo Saxon Scribes_, (3) Joseph
Puggan _La Chanson de Roland et oralite_, (4) Albert Lord, _Singer of Tales : Orality in the Odyssey of

of related texts. Chirographic and visual texts were as flexible as oral ones (see Beit Arie, in Transmitting Jewish
Traditions, (Yale, 236-237).
Ta shema, Minhag Ashkenaz ha-Qadmon (Jerusalem 1992, 103-105)
Halakhah, Kalkalah ve-Dimmuy Atsmi (Jerusalem, 1985), 111-112
Homer, (5) Maria Rosa Menocal and Alfred Jeanroy _Provencal Poetry and Orality_, (6) Jack Goody,
Literacy in traditional societies, (7) Brian Stock, _The implications of literacy: written language
and models of interpretation in the eleventh and twelfth centuries_., (8) Ruth Finnegan, _Oral Poetry: Its
Nature, Significance, and Social Context345_, (9) OKeeffe, _Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old
English Verse346_.

These ring cycles and mnemonics helped perpetuate the Bavli ideology of orality before and after the
period of redaction. In Eruvin 21b we find an important statement of Rava that it is impossible to write
oral torah down and that written notes, aide memoires, are preferable. While scribes, judges, and
exilarchic bureaucrats did write as part of their trade on a daily basis the mysterium sanctum347 of
Jewish culture, the Bavli was largely transmitted orally. Walter Ong has noted that writing distances the
writer from the source and thus oral cultures stress internalization of text, living the text, which comes
with oral memorization. Of course the pusek from Tehillim Kuf Yod Tet, is the source of the prohibition
of writing down torah she ba' peh based on et la-asot li hashem hafarin torahtekhah.


The verse in Shemot 24:27, And the L-rd said to Moses: Write down these commandments for, in
accordance with these commandments I make a covenant with you and with Israel was interpreted by
the School of Rabbi Ishmael as follows, write down these commandments (lit. words)- these shall you
write but you shall not write the halkhot (oral law).348 In the following century R. Judah b. Nahmani the
spokesman (meturgeman) for Resh Lakish, an amora of the Land of Israel, interpreted this verse from
the book of Exodus in a dual manner: Matters that are written you are not at liberty to recite orally,
matters transmitted orally you are not at liberty to recite from writing.349 From many Talmudic sources
we learn of Sages who had in their possession for reference use when necessary private scrolls,

There is now a general development across a number of disciplines away from older views of text as hard-
edged, spatial, fully comprised by its verbal components, existent independent of its performance, analyzable
separately from other texts or other aesthetic media, or finally as the form in which artistic expression
quintessentially exists and should be analyzed. How, for example can we explore the complex relation between
texts and textuality on the one hand and specific performances or events on the other (if indeed this is a
proper distinction)?... Questions also arise about the place of intertextuality in oral poetry, of the unfixedness of
what were once regarded as definitively established genres, and about how far a concept of text as emergent
process may throw more light on oral (and perhaps written?) poetry than the older model of finalized a-social
product (Bloomington, 1992, p.x-xi)
Whenever scribes who are part of the oral traditional culture write or copy traditional oral works, they do not
merely mechanically hand them down; they rehear them mouth them, reporform them in the act of writing in
such a way that the text may change but remain authentic, just as a completely oral poets text changes from
performance to performance without losing authenticity, (OKeefe, (Cambridge, 1990),80-81.
Yuval writes, The Jewish tactic of concealment succeeded well. So long as the oral torah was preserved within
its oral framework it indeed remained a mystery as far as Christian knowledge therefore was concerned. It was
only during the course of the 13th century that awareness began to spread among Christian scholars that the
Talmud and not the bible, was the quintessential Jewish book. (Yuval, The orality of Jewish oral: from pedagogy to
ideology in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the course of history, 2011.
TB Temurah 14b; Gittin 60b.
TB Gittin 60b; likewise in TB Temurah 14b where it is stated in reverse order
containing newly adopted laws.350 The object was to prevent the contents from being forgotten.351
There is also evidence of halakhic matters by letter and by other means of communication.352 Individuals
may have put laws in writing for their own use, and that the prohibition was aimed only at the writing of
laws for the purpose of teaching them in public directly from the text.353 The written law should be
taught only from the text and not orally from memory conversely the oral law should be taught only
orally from memory and not from written texts; and this was true even when there were laws that had
been put in writing. The prohibition of rendering oral law into writing was seen by R. Judah b. Shalom,
an amora of the 5th generation of Palestine as a uniqueness of the Jews:

R. Judah b. Shalom said when G-d told Moses, write down Moses sought to have the Mishnah
reduced to writing, But G-d foresaw that in the future the nations of the world would translate the Bible
and read it in Greek and they would say, we are Israel! and now the scales are balanced. G-d said to
the nations: You say that you are my sons. I recognize only those to whom I have confided my secret
mystery- they are my sons, and what is My secret mystery? It is the Mishnah which was given orally.354

While Christianity adopted Scripture and attempted to prove from its verses that it was Christianity that
discovered and maintains scriptural teachings, Judaism holds the written law can only be understood in
light of the oral law. Therefore the oral law was given to Moses at Sinai to clarify and explain the torah,
was not put in writing; it was to remain secret between the Jewish people and G-d, to prove and identify
Israel as the children of G-d.355 In later times Jewish scholars viewed the prohibition against putting the
Halakhah in writing as an indication of the character and aim of the Halakhah itself. The written law gave
rise to every letter and crownlet and from them innumerable legal rules were derived and built. The
essence of the oral law is content of its rules and since it is not committed to writing is something that
continues to evolve over historical time to the messianic era. As late as the Penei Yehoshua, (Joshua
Falk) we read:

They should not depend on a written text to which they are less likely to give the same careful
consideration that must be given to what is taught orally: oral instruction requires constant thought
to keep the material in mind, and as a result many laws will be brought into being out of the
deliberations and reasoning process involved in studying the oral law.356

TB Shabbat 6b, Bava Metzia 92a
Rashi, Shabbat 6b, s.v. Megillat setarim
TB Ketubbot 49b, 69a et al
See: J.N. Epstein, Mavo Le-Nusah ha-Mishnah pp. 699ff; H.Albeck Mavo, p. 113ff.; The accuracy of such notes
written for personal purposes of the sages was sometimes questioned (They do not ave the signature of Mar B.
Ravana upon them- TB Yevamot 22a) and they had no more weight than their statements and they did not carry
the authority of written documents (Lieberman, Hellenism, 87ff.)
Tanhuma Ki Tissa 34
Urbach, The Sages, p.305
Intro to Joshau Falk to his Sema on Sh.Ar. HM; Earlier Falk quoted the reason stated in Tanhuman: The sages
wrote that the reason was so that sectarians (minim) would not transform the oral law into heresy as they did to
the written law, and as it is written The many teachings I wrote for him have been treated as something alien.;
See also guide for the Perplexed Part I, ch. 71
Permission to reduce the oral law to writing is connected in the Talmudic tradition with the difficulty of
remembering the material of halakhah and transmitting it orally; putting it in writing because necessary
to prevent the Torah from being forgotten. In justifying the elimination of this prohibition the Sages
interpreted the verse in Tehillim, It is time to act to act for the L-rd.357 This prohibition from Tehillim is
cited 676 times in rabbinic texts.358 Without Hashem in the formula it is cited four times.359 Thus the law

Tehillim 119:126

)(: )(: )(: ...
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of prohibiting the writing down of oral torah can be broken only by great sages during times of crisis
when the torah risks being forgotten or violated ie. It is better that one letter of the torah should be
uprooted so that the ENTIRE torah will not be forgotten in Israel.360 However Ellman and his followers
argue that even if the Mishnah was put in writing as soon as it was redacted by R. Judah Ha-Nasi study in
public and in the academy (yeshivah) continued to be conducted orally and not from the written text.
Epstein holds that The written Mishnah may have been consulted only when necessary in case of doubt

: ! - : . . '
... : ? . .
- 8.
, - : . ...
' : , " ; : !
: . , : ,
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- 9.
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TB Gittin 60a, Temurah 14b
or inability to remember.361 Lieberman holds that the Mishnah and Talmud were first reduced to writing
at the time of the savoraim, in the sixth Century C.E.362

C. Anecdote by Professor at LCW about the Place of Orality while Attending a Shiur of Rav Soloveitchik

A professor at the LCW told over his experience with oral torah while in a shiur with Rav Soloveitchik in
which students in the class included great scholars like Rabbi Dovid Cohen and Rabbi Blau, mashgihah
ruhanit of YU, when in walked Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, and within 5 mins. The Rav and Rav Aaron were
shooting lighting flash exchanges of obscure sources back and forth in the thunder of dialectic that could
not be written down, and if put on recorder and transcribed would not capture the essence of those
exchanges of oral torah.

An interesting remark of Rabbi Simon b. Gamaliel in BT. Shabbat 13b is found with regards to the
authors of Taanit, a text which uncharacteristically was written down in the 2nd temple times before 70
CE. Rabbi Simon says that the redactors of Taanit embraced troubles and with regards to other
tractates we would not be able to write them down (ein anu maspiqin). Ellman argues that the different
types of textual variants and exemplar wittenness of ms. (see Saul Lieberman Talmud Database on TC.
website) of Bavli by redactional hands point to oral provenance. Also the dictum in (Avot 6:6= BT Meg.
15a= Hul 104b= Nid 19b) that one who says something in the name of their teacher who said it in the
name of their teacher brings redemption to the world also suggests an oral culture.

C. Idiomatic Aramaic Expressions Emphasizing a Culture of Orality

Also idiomatic formulaic phrases in Bavli such as suggest oral transmission:

Ve i-teima and if you will say

Ve-amri lah and some say it

Ika de amri there are those who say

Keinu matnuta is the teaching really this

Hakhi qa amor this is what he means by saying

Eipokh reverse the opinion stated orally

Muhlefet ha-shittah principle is revealed orally

Hasurei mih assara something is certainly missing from the argument

Kerokh v-teni wrapt together and recite

Samei mi- kan remove from here

Epstein, Mavo, p. 703 and the bibliographic references, supra n. 167.
Lieberman, Hellenism, pp. 83ff.
Apeik ve-ayeil add

Litzedakin qa tani he rendered chiastically

Lat kan there is not here

Tanya did we not learn by hearing

Metiue they responded orally

I bait eima if you want I can say

and hakhi qa amar This is what it means to say

hakhi qa amar this is what he means to say

keman dami who is this like

mahu de tema hava aminu . Qa mashma lan I would think therefore he informs us

hakha be mai as I qinan with what are we dealing with here

mai shema u mai shema what is the difference between x and y

mahu de-teima / hava amaina qa mashma lan= I would have thought he

informs us


Ve it tannaye tani there are reciters who recite (PT Shab 5:2 (7b)


These phrases may suggest that recitation was the educational curricular norm. The root Katav (to
write) appears 11,976 X in bavli and variants of passive Ketiv 8465x. 348 of those instances are unrelated
hits as in Katov Rahmana and 3163 are related to writing mezuzot, sifrei torah and tefillin and thus
pertaining to the late Tractate Sofrim. Thus there are relatively few occurrence of the term to write.
Thus an argument for oral transmission and therefore lack of what we know as libraries. In Tan 8a Resh
Laqish is said to recite Mishnah 40x and then appear before Rabbi Yochanan his teacher. Rabbi Ada b.
Aha would recite Mishnah 24x and appear before Rava. It is safe to say in Rabbinic culture there is
reluctance to write down. Thus the later Brisker tradition the Rebbeim were said to publish little in their
own lifetimes, while the Schechter institute is publishing many writings in the name of the Rav based on
notes and recordings by students. Reluctance to write down is also seen in Peah 2:6 and 17a in a
discussion between Rabbi Zera and Rabbi Eleazar based on a pusek from Hosea 1:8.


Malachi Bei-Arie has noted in his Panizzi Lectures that the earliest reference to the Hebrew Codex form
in Jewish history does not date before he end of the 8th century of beginning of the 9th century and the
earliest term designating a codex was borrowed from Arabic and persisted in the orient for a long time.
The relatively late adoption by Jews of the codex form may well reflect the basically oral culture of the
transmission of Hebrew post-biblical texts testified by sources. The earliest Hebrew codex according to
Beit Arie dates to the 10th Century. Meanwhile the codex form was celebrated and used by Christians
which is ironic because medieval iconography frequently represents Jews looking down at shadowy texts
while their Christian interlocutors are looking up at the sun. It should be pointed out that people of the
book is the designation of the Koran and was not how Rabbis in the medieval ages referred to
themselves. Rava quotes Eccl. 12:12 of the makers of books there is no end in a way that suggests
that book culture is suspect. Rabbinic law and oral tradition is too voluminous to reduce totally to
writing. Only one complete copy of the Ms. Munich 95 Bavli survives This may be due to the
cumbersome size of the Bavli for instance a torah scroll has about 80,000 words while the Bavli if
written out would take 18x that number or 18 scrolls. Thus oral transmission remained the norm in

Of course the position of Ellman is not uniform. Y.N. Epstein holds that the Mishnah and beraitot were
available in written form in the Amoraic times in Babylonia as suggested by aural variants in the
mishnaic text ms. Yet the pervasive oralilty is a reflection of the social and intellectual ideological
environments in which Rabbinic texts were compiled and redacted in form. The Babylonian Rabbinic
elite unlike their colleagues in Palestine operated in a climate in which written texts played a smaller
role even though literacy was valued, most of their work took place without much recourse to writing
with the exception of legal documents and compilations of aggadata. The ideological factor or oral
transmission forbade written transmission of such texts and this ideology held sway from the 3rd to the
9th century long after Christian and Arabic society was more inclined to set teachings in writings. The
warp and woof of dialectical makloket dissuaded recourse to written form. The term peligi (they
disagree) suggests oral exchange as does bi shlama . Ma ika lemeimar. The nature of Bavli is continual
and unending dialogue typical of oral societies. A sugya might be defined as an oral exchange in
dialogue form. The sugyot come down to us much later as stenographic records of hotly contested
debates or in same cases of reconstructed shiurim. The ideology of oral transmission of bavli continued
into the book culture of the Geonic period as late as the 10th century according to Elman. Ellman argues
that the existence of Palestinian structures within Bavli (interpolations and paraphrasing etc.) point to
some written transmission and Bavli redactors organized some of the Yerushalmi and expanded upon it
i.e. Bavli is much longer than the Yerushalmi. The bringing of Yerushalmi ideas [from Israel] and texts to
Babylon is well known to result from the travelers such as Ula, R. Dimi, Rabin who transferred special
Palestinian traditions to Babylon. In general the teachers insisted on memorization and not recourse to
writing. In sum the history of Bavlis redaction was complex and have involved confluence of oral and
written texts but all of which stem out of an oral culture. For the purposes of our historical overview this
oral culture leads to the deduction that there were not large collections of written texts in the tannaitic
and amoraic periods. Certainly no existence of what we know today from the Renaissance as a Jewish

Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson demonstrate that orality is an ideological strategy of transmission for
esoteric teachings for the esoteric nature of the lore being disseminated compelled and ideology of
orality, deployed in the service of textualtiy only reluctantly for esoteric lore was withheld from the
many. As noted by Ellman in the geonic times in Babylonia the maintenance of a policy of oral
transmission served the purpose of maintaining the geonic elites monopoly and authority over rabbinic
tradition and its interpretation. The dissemination of esoteric lore by Spanish mystics for example
within the book culture of the 13th century Europe shows that an aura of orality continued into this
relatively late period of history for orally transmitted Kabbalistic esoterica. Kabbalists of the 13th century
committed their teachings to writing reluctantly to disseminate volumes of Kabbalistic lore even while
insisting on the primacy of the essential oral modes of transmission. Oral and literate traditions often
functioned side by side and in tension.


A. Jewish Libraries in the Renaissance

In the Renaissance with the renaissance of interest in Latin and Greek classics in the original languages
of these texts, libraries as we know them today thrived and expanded as David Ruderman, Robert Bonfil,
Author Lesley and others have explored in the period of the Italian Renaissance. Books such as the
Hebrew text of Shifra Baruchson titled, _Sifra: Tarbut shel Yehudim Italia biTekufah HaRenaissance_ and
many other studies exist on Jewish Renaissance libraries partly because the evidence is so plentiful and
easy to access. Marvin Hellers Studies in the Making of the Early Hebrew book, contains 24 excellent
essays on Hebrew book production in the 16th to 18th centuries encompassing little known printing
presses, makers of Hebrew books, and book arts. Print shops in Padua, Freiburg-im Breisgua, Verona,
and the first presses in Livorno were just a few key locations. Book arts address the titling of Hebrew
books, dating by means of chronograms, printers pressmarks, mirror image monograms, and the
development of the printing of the Talmudic page. Early Hebrew book sale catalogs also exist.

Saftei Bass catalog is well known. The history of the printing press and the effect of this technology of
Jewish transmission of tradition. One of many sources for this is: Printing the Talmud : from Bomberg to
Schottenstein / edited by Sharon Liberman Mintz and Gabriel M. Goldstein. The Inquisitions ban on the
printing of the Talmud reveals how dangerous book printers were faced with when taking on a venture
to print the mysterium tremendum of the Jewish people. Marc Saperstein has noted that the coming of
printing the publication of originally orally presented sermonica allowed the perpetuation in frozen form
of those rhetorical strategies originally formulated for oral presentation.363 We must never forget that

See Saperstein, Marc in Transmitting Jewish Traditions; Sapersteins study illustrates that the sermons of Saul
Levy Morteira a 17th century preacher of the Portuguese community of Amsterdam reveals the nature of the
interface between orality and textuality. Saperstein notes Morteiras use of a ring structure which enclose the
entire sermon, where the sermon ends as it began, thus enabling the preacher to open with a prefiguration of his
theme, and to leave his audience with that theme once again fresh in their minds. Also see: Saperstein, Marc, Exile
in Amsterdam : Saul Levi Morteira's sermons to a congregation of "new Jews", HUC Press, 1995. & Saperstein,
Marc, Jewish preaching, 1200-1800 : an anthology, Yale, 1989.
printing of Guttenberg and Bomberg was a revolution in technology which many orally dominated rabbis
of transmitting texts in oral form opposed as it would lead to a forgetting of text and lessoning of
memory. Today we are witnessing an also massive technological revolution in the nature of textuality in
cyberlearning. Cyberlearning also serves to return the transmission of knowledge to its essentially
malleable base, where the tradition is modified in an echo-chamber effect at its very point of
transmission. The concept of a fixed tradition, itself the effect of the introduction of redaction to writing,
may give way to a process by which the fluidity of oral transmission is combined with the historical
memory of recorded text as event.

B. Jewish Libraries From the Renaissance: Modernity as a collection of TEXTS written down during
Crises- Breaking the Law in order to Save the law

From the Renaissance the evidence of the proliferation of Jewish libraries explodes and today we enjoy
such great repositories such as YIVO, JTSA, JNUL, Jews College in London, the Bodelein Collection of
Oxford, the Cambridge Jewish Library, British Museum, the NYPL Dorot division, LC, Staatsbibliotheque,
the saltykov library in St. Petersubrg, the Vatican, the Bibliotheque Nationale from which Shlomo Munk
found a copy of Solomon Ibn Gabirols Fons vital, which was only known in latin translation for many
centuries until the Hebrew version, Mikor Hayim was found by munk in the French library. Libraries
according to Jennifer Summit are more than inert storehouses of written tradition; they are volatile
dynamic spaces that actively shaped the meanings and uses of books, reading, and consciousness that
evolves. They are spaces where conceptions of knowledge are created and grow. They are the crucibles
in which knowledge is shaped and advanced . 364 This is even more so with modern and postmodern
libraries as knowledge has become shaped by librarians themselves as teachers.

After the printing press Jewish book culture proliferated so that Jews became known as the people of
the book(s). Yet still to this day as noted by the Brisker traditions reluctance to publish in the lifetime of
its rebbeim oral transmission is privileged over the written text. Yet during times of crisis as during Rabbi
Yehudah HaNazi and the Rambam Gedolei hador take upon themselves the noble endeavor to preserve
the truth by storing up in writing esoteric written secrets by breaking the law of not writing them down,
in order to save the law. It is such texts, the sparks and embers of esoteric traditions still glow, and our
libraries today house as traces of eternal truths. Each rabbinic interpretation is a spark of scripture,
sparks that link one back to HarSinai when Hashem carved out the luchot with a Word of fire amidst
thunder that was seen and lightning that was heard for much of the pervasive orality of rabbinic
transmission is a part of the divine process of discerning with the ear. This hearing precedes the act of
writing, which is often the last resort to preserve and bind up the law so it not be forgotten and lost
following rabbinic catastrophes. Thus Strauss understanding of the dynamic between Persecution and
the Art of Writing, clearly has a Talmudic text in Gittin 60b and Temurah 14b which in turn are based on
the pusek from Tehillim:

Summit, Jennifer, Memorys Library: Medieval Books and Early Modern England, Univ. of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 2008.
Part IX. Folklore365 and orality

A. Rabbinic Texts incorporating in the mashal, mishlei shualim366, and parables, and tall tales
(oral lore)

In the 19th century Jewish folklore became a more respected academic discipline. In the mid 19th century Wolff
Pascheles published in Prague a volume of Sippurim (Tales) 1853-70) that he described as a collection of Jewish
folk-legends, tales, myths, chronicles, and biographies, including the story of the Golem. Saul Ginzburg (1866-1940)
and Pesah Marek (1862-1920) together circulated a questionnaire that yielded the material from which they
selected 376 texts for their volume Yiddishe Folkslider in Rusland (1901). The poet Takor Marc Warshavsky (1885-
1942) publsiehd a collection of his songs and music as Yiddishe folkslider mit Noten. One of his songs Oyfen
Pripetchik obtained great popularity as a Yiddishe folkslid. Ignatz Bernstein (1836-1909) recorded Yiddish songs
as Juedische Sprichwoerter und Redensarten (1908). Baron Horace Guenzbergs Jewish Ethnographic Expedition to
Volyhnia Podalia and to the area of Kiev in 1912-1914 financed mostly by his son Vladimir and headed by S. Anski
(Solomon Zainwil Rapaport 1863-1920). In the article Jewish Folk Creativity Anski proposed that spirituality
distinguishes Jewish folk heroes from other nations heros, whose excellence was based on physical prowess and
not intellectual acumen. Anski and other Yiddishists began to occupy themselves with the recovery of Yiddish
folklore. Influenced by neo-romantic and modernist ideas Isaac Leib Peretz (1852-1915) for example published two
collections of Yiddish stories Khasidish (Hasisidic Tales) and Folkstimlikh Geshikhten (Folktales) in 1909. J.Y.L.
Cahans Yiddishe Folksongs with their Original Airs (1912) was incorporated into in his 1957 volume Yiddish Folk
Songs with Melodies. . Cahans collection included viglider (cradle songs) or shlofider (sleeping songs). Chaim
Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) also helped to revive folkore but as a Hebraicists wrote mostly in Hebrew. Joseph
Hayyim Brenner (1881-1921) articulated in an essay published in 1914 in Jerusalem an article calling for the
preservation of an indigenous folklore in the newly revived tongue. After WWI A. Druyanov and Bialik and Y.Yh
Rawnitsky began publishing the Hebrew annual Reshumot: Measef le-divrei zikhronot etnografia ve-lefolklore be-
yisrael (Odessa 1918; Tel Aviv 1930). In 1925 YIVO, Yidishe Visnshaftlekher Institute inaugaurated a Folklore
Commision under the leadership of Judah Leib Cahan (1881-1937) who in turn organized a network of collectors
(zamlers). These zamlers collected massive amounts of Yiddish texts of folktales, folk songs, and folklore subjects.
In 1944 Raphael Patai (1910-96) and J.J. Rivlin (1889-1971) founded the Palestine Institute for Folkore and
Ethnology and its corresponding journal Edoth. Yom Tov Lewinski (1899-1973) who renewed the publication of
Reshumot founded in 1948 the Israel Folkore Society and its journal Yeda-Am which is currently published. In 1954
Dov Noy established the Israel Folktale Archives now at the University of Haifa. The Jewish Folklore Section of the
American Folklore Society and the publication of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnography Review (formerly Jewish
folklore and Ethnography Newsletter) was founded in 1977. The most comprehensive annotations for Yiddish tales
are found in Haim Schwarzbaum, Studies in Jewish and World Folkore (1968). Simultaneously the emergences of
Spanish scholar Joan Menendez Pidal (1861-1915) initiated the recording and analysis of Sephardic poetry. Max
Grunwald initiated the systematic research into Jewish folktales recording Judeo-Spanish folk ballads in translation
in German and later in Hebrew. Heda Jason classified hagiographic saint tales in her Folktales of the Jews of Iraq
(1988). Such hagiographic praise works existed long before in Yiddish. Shivhei ha-Besth which appeared in the
Ukraine (1814) and Oseh Pele (Miracle Worker) which Yosef Shabbetai Farhi published in 4 vols. In Livorno (1845-
69) both in Hebrew. Jokes also are included in the area of lore. In 1956 two Israeli humor writers, Dahn Ben-Amotz
and Hayyim Hefer published an edited collection of Jokes Yalkut ha-Kesavim that included jokes told by members
of the Jewish underground of the Palmah during the 1940s. Eliott Oring has translated it and has furthermore
supplemented it with additional texts from the authors manuscripts . The result was published as Israeli Humor
(1981). Tales are also collected by Yad Tabenkin the central research institute of the United Kibbutz Movement.
Commenting upon the verse Looking up, Jacob saw Easu coming, accompanied by 400 men (Gen. 33:1), Rabbi
Levi drew and analogy between the biblical scene in which Jacob divided his household into 2 camps as they
approached Esau, and the fable about the appeasement delegation that the animals had sent to the lion. The
animals had initially appointed the fox as their leader, but when it approached the lion, the fox actually withdrew
from the head of the end of the line (MR. Gen 78:7).
The element of folklore which is usually transmitted originally orally is found in Rabbinic texts. For
example anecdotes function as a joking relationship in averting social tension. For instance we find the
wise men of Athens said to Rabbi Joshua ben Haninaanania (BT, Bekhorot 8b):

Tell us some stories (milei de-badayyah]. He said to them: There was a mule which gave birth and round
its neck was a document in which was written there is a claim against my fathers house of one
hundred thousand zuz. They asked him: Can a mule give birth? He answered them: This is one of these

This is a catch tale that derives its humor from the contradiction that mules dont give birth. Most other
humorous narratives are tall tales (divrei guzma) whose narrator according to tradtion Rabba bar bar
Haninaana (4rth C.) who traveled between Babylon and Palestine and in each location gave over orally
his tall tales and travelers tales. Long before the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, this genre existed in
Rabbinic texts. These tall tales undoubtedly were meant to be told orally. For example in BT. Bava Batra

Rabbah bar bar Haninaana further stated: We traveled once on board a ship and the ship sailed
between one fin of the fish and other for three days and three nights; it swimming upwards and we
floating downwards. And if you think he ship did not sail fast enough R. Dimi when he came stated that
it covered 60 parasangs in the time it take to warm a kettle of water. When a horseman shot an arrow
the ship outstripped it. And R. Ashi said That was one fot he small sea monsters which have only two

This oral tall tale assumes gross exaggeration. The editors of the Bavli assembled these tall tales in
specific tractates such as Bava Batra 73a-74b; Eruvin 30a; Gittin 57b-58a; Keutbbot 111b-12a; Shabbat
21a; Taanit 22b, etc and in Yerushalmi Pea 7:3-4.

In contrasts to the oral tall tale is the mushal. The formula mahsal le-mah ha-davar domeh le (A
parable what is the matter like? It is like?) opens the parable, establishing it as an anthology to a given
situation, and the word kakh (it is like) closes the metaphoric description and serves as a transition to its
application. An abbreviated introduction, mashal le (A parable: It is like) is also a pattern. In the
following list of the clans of Edomites (Bereshit 36:40-43) Rabbi Levi inserts the following parable (MR.
Genesis 83:5):

The wheat, the straw, and the stubble engaged in a controversy. The wheat said : For my sake has the
field been sown and the stubble maintained for my sake the field was sown. Said the wheat to them:
When the hour comes you will see. When harvest time came the farmer took he stubble and burnt it,
scattered the straw and piled up the wheat into a stack, and everybody kissed it. In like manner Israel
and the nations have a controversy each asserting For our sake was the world created. Says Israel :
The hour will come in the messianic future and you will see how Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall
carry them away (Isaiah 41:16) but as for Israel- And thou shalt rejoice in the L-rd, thous shalt glory in
the Holy one of Israel.
The moral application of parables do not require the codified language of politics. For example in (BT
Bava Kamma 60b) we find an oral parable about a man with 2 wives:

To what is this like? To a man who has had 2 wives, one young and one old. The young one used to pluck
out his white hair. Whereas the old one used to pluck out his black hair. He thus finally remained bald on
both sides.

Oral tradition also provides reports of rabbis who knew orally of Aesop fables. Hillel the Elder and Rabbi
Yochana ben Zakkai and Rabbi Meir often told fables.367 According to the later accounts Rabbi Joshua
ben Haninaananiah used the fable of the wolf and the Heron to calm a crowd demonstrating against
the ruler Hadrian, who had reneged on his promise to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. (MR, Gen. 64:10).
Rabbi Akiva once told a fable about a fox who tried to lure fish onto dry land in order to escape from the
fisherman (BT, Berakhot 61b). The popular fable The fox and the swollen belly interprets the
Ecclesiastic verse As he came out of his mothers womb, so must he depart at last, naked as he came
(Eccl. 5:14; MR. Ecclesisastics 5:14). Often rabbis in the BT. Introduce proverbs with the Aramaic
formula: ki de-amrie inshei (As people say ) or mashal hediot omer (a commoners proverb says).
Rhetorically the sages evoked with proverbs the authority of the oral tradition of the people.

The oral recitation of sacred texts is seen in the relationship between the darshan, doresh, or in Aramaic
derusha who had an assistant, meturggeman or amora, who repeated his message to the public in the
language they understood i.e. the vernacular which at that time was Aramaic. Early teachers whom
tradition confers to be darshanim were Shamaiah and Avtalyon (BT Pesahim 70b). Later preachers
developed expertise in law, baalei halakhah, and oral lore, baalei aggadah. These darshanim
incorporated the maaseh (narrative account) into their speeches. In contrast to the maaseh, dvar bedai
(false word) and the Aramaic beduta refer to the untruthfulness of a story. Buzmah means exaggeration
and designates tall tales. Narratives that function as poetic metaphoric examples are meshalim (sing
mashal). Fables, parables, and animal tales are called mishlei shualim (fox fables) and thereby draw on
the character type of the trickster) in Hellenistic literature. The term mashal also refers to the proverb,
a gendre designated as well by the Aramaic term pitgam.

B. Medieval Oral transmission of medieval Folklore in Rabbinic culture

Editors such as Rabbi Simeon ha-Darshan (the preacher of Frankfurt) who compiled Yalkut
Shimoni and David ben Amram Adani of Yemen edited the Midrash ha-Gadol. Both texts draw
on earlier sources but also include texts from oral tradition. According to tradition (BT Bava
Mezia 86a) Rav Ashi the head of the academy of Mata Mehasya (352-427) and Ravina the head
of the academy of Sura (d.500) both put final touches on the editing of the BT. But later rabbis
continued to add to it until the time of the Arabic conquest. Even later, rabbis and copyists
added to the canon of oral tradition, often by including narratives that were previously oral
folklore. The story of Rabbi Akiva and the Dead man which tells of the redemptive prayer that
saves a man from his punishment, appeared in the minor tractate of BT. Kalah Rabbati 52a) itself

See: Sofrim 17:9; BT Sukkah 28a; Bava Batra 38b
dated to the 7th-9th centuries. Later in the Middle ages this tale sanctioned the institution of the
Kaddish. Even when Babylonian Geonic academies disbanded Babylonian continued to harbor
Jewish communities where editors anonymously composed books that contained folk oral
traditions. The Midrash of the ten commandments (Midrash asertet ha-dibrot) and the
Alaphabet of ben-sira, are 2 major tale collections that originated in Babylonia. Further a
Kairuan rabbi, Rabbi Nissim ben Jacob ibn Shahin (990-1062) wrote a collection of tales in Judeo-
Arabic known as _An Elegant Composition Concerning Relief after Adversity_ (Hibbur Yafe me-
ha-Yeshuaah). In later years this text was translated into Hebrew and still later, in the 16th
century became a popular book of folklore. The Jewish community of Kairouan was also the
source of oral tradition and dissemination of epistolary literature concerning the legend of the
10 lost tribes which became a significant source of oral folklore. Eldad ha-Dani a traveler who
claimed to have arrived from the land of the 10 lost tribes reached this community in the 9th
century. Weaving together several themes current in oral tradition he created a Utopian fantasy
that inspired travel literature.

Ms. No. 135 of the Bodleian Library of Oxford incorporates a number of oral folkloric texts from
the medieval ages including: Alphabet of Ben Sira, the Mishlei Shuaalim of Rabbi Bereschiah ha-
Nakdan368, Tales of Sendebar369, A Chronicle of Moses370, Midrash of the 10 commandments371,
and Midrash va-Yosha. Some of these texts like some of Chaucers Canterbury tales include
bawdry elements meant to shock. For instance the Alaphabet of Ben Sira, begins with a bawdry
incest narrative that explains how Ben sira and his mother were both the children of the
prophet Jeremaiah.372

While these Near Easter and Mediterranean works drew on earlier midrashic traditions a work
like Sefer Hasidim reflects a dramatic change although it too drew on oral folkloric traditions.
Rabbi Judah Ha-Haasid of Regensburg (d. 1217) wrote most of the book as an ethical guide for

Rabbi Berechiah ben Natronai ha-Nakdan (12th C.) who likely lived in Provence or northern France composed a
collection of animal fables, Mishlei Shualim in rhymed Hebrew prose that for the first time in Jewish literature
presented a corpus of this genre in a single collection.
Often Kalila and Dimna with the Hebrew Translation of Tales of Sendebar are confused. In both books the name
of the wise man and in ms. No. 1282 in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the name of the translator Rabbi Joel,
appear to be the same. Tales of Sendebar is a frame narrative that belongs to the group of medieval books known
in the East as the Book of Sindibad and in the West as the Seven Sages of Rome. It contains several tales on the
wiles of women, a popular theme in Jewish medieval folklore.
Divrei ha-Yamim Shel Moshe Rabbenu and Meshalim shel Shlomo ha-Melekh were printed together in
Constantinople in 1516. As rewritten biblical narratives the tales draw upon midrashic sources, but also add
mediaeval elements i.e. Moses becomes a resourceful military strategist who wins a war after a prolonged
standoff and is reward for his accomplishments with a kingship and wife.
Midrash aseret ha-dibrot takes each commandment servina sa thematic framing principle around which the
editor clusters tales. The book makes external references to the 7th century and 11th century as latest date for its
provenance. It probably originated in present day Iraq but later it circulated widely in manuscript form. It ranged
in size from 17 to 44 tales. The theme of the commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery attracted the
largest number of tales.
Although Joseph Dan refuses to mention the bawdy episode in his analysis (1974:71), modern translators of the
text have not censored it. See: Stern and Mirsky 1990:169
communities of Jewish pietists in the Rhineland towns of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. He drew
heavily on Medieval German folk oral traditions and beliefs in the existence of demons, witches,
werewolves etc. that were steeped in European folk traditions.

C. Yiddish oral traditions from the Cairo Geniza

The documents of oral tradition in Yiddish like the epic poems of Malan Shahin date back to the
14th century. The Yiddish language emerged around the 10th century among Jewish communities
in Lothariingia in the Rhine valley where they spread it to Northern Italy, northern France, and
Holland. Old Yiddish (1250-1500) was primarily a spoken language which served for tales,
proverbs, and songs. The earliest document of literary activity in Yiddish is known as the
Cambridge Codex which was discovered in a cachet of manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah. It
dates from 1382 and includes poetic renditions of biblical themes.

D. Judeo-Spanish and the oral tradition

Jews spoke Judeo-Spanish in the Iberian peninsula before their expulsion in 1492. The use of
Judeo-Spanish is evident from ta 15th century text written in Spanish with Hebrew letters of
Santob de Carriorn (alias Shem Tov Ben Ardutiel) c. 1290-1369 entitled Proverbios morales, or
Consejos y documentos al rey don Pedro. The text is a collection of versified proverbs that
occurred in daily speech.

D. Sefer Yuchasin and Historical sources based on oral traditions

Abraham ibn Daud of Toledio (c. 1110-81) starts his book Sefer Ha-Qabbala with a chronology of
transmission chain that has Adam as its universal starting point. He continues by singling out
biblical and Talmudic figures as links in his chain, but when he reaches the middle ages he
resorts to the oral history of his own time and tells the story of the Four Captives.373 He
continues his account by describing he transition of the center of Jewish learning from Babylon
to the countries of the Mediterranean. Those presented was historical fact the story is filled with
oral folklore themes.

Prior to that it was brought about by the Lord that the income of the academies which used to come from
Spain, the land of Maghreb, Ifiqiqa Egypt, and the Holy land discontinued. The following were the circumstances
that brought this about: The commander of a fleet whose name was ibn Ruhmahis, left Cordova having been sent
by the Muslim king of Spain, Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasir. This commander of a mighty fleet set out to capture the
ships of the Christians and the towns that were close to the coast. They sailed as far as the coast of Palestine and
swung about to the Greek sea and the islands therein. Here they encountered a ship carrying four great scholars,
who were traveling from the city of Bari to a city called Sebastian, and who were on their way to a Kallah
convention. Obn Rumahis captured the ship and took he sages prisoner. One of them was R. Hushiel the father of
Rabbenu Hananel and another was R. Moses, the father of R. Hank, who was taken prisoner with his wife and his
son. R. Hanok (who at the time was but a young boy); the third was Rabbi Shemariah b. R. Elhanan. As for the
fourth, I do not know his name. The commander wanted to violate R. Moses wife inasmuch as she was
exceedingly beautiful. Thereupon she cried out in Hebrew to her husband R. Moses, and asked him whether or not
those who drown in the sea will be quickened at the time of the resurrection of the dead. He replied unto her,
The Lord said I will bring them from the Bashan: I will bring them back from the depths of the sea. Having heard
his reply, she cast herself into the sea and drowned. (see: Cohen, The book of Tradition, Sefer Ha-Qabbalah, by
Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud. Philadelphia JPS, 1967; 63-64.)
Rabbi Ahimaaz ben Paltiel in his book Megillot Ahimaaz (The Scroll of Ahimaaz) set out to trace
his family roots back to Jerusalem, when his forefathers following the Hurban in 70 CE. Came to
the River Po as exiles and later moved to Oria in southern Italy. His book Sefer Yuchaisn is a
chronology written in rhymed prose up to the date 1054 CE.

E. Later Folkloric works drawing on oral tradition

Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (The Chain of tradition) written by Gedaliah ben Joseph ibn Yahya (1526-
87) was published in 1587 is a book of Jewish history in which ibn Yahya drew upon books that
were available to him.

Shmuel Bukh (Book of Samuel) printed first in Augsburg in 1544 and Melkhim Bukh (Book of
Kings) printered in Augsburg in 1543 are Yiddish books that retell the accounts of Joshua,
Judges, and Daniel and appeared in the 16th century. The heroic military acts and romantic
episodes elaborate on the biblical canon.

Mayseh Bukh ((Book of Tales) is a collection of 257 tales in Yiddish that was edited by a
Lithuanian book dealer named Jacob ben Abraham and was printed in 1602 in Basel by the press
of Konrad Waldkirch. The target audience of this midrashic hodgepodge text in Yiddish was
women who were more fluent in Yiddish than Hebrew.

Eliezer Lieberman translated from Hebrew to Yiddish and published in 1696 in Amsterdam a
collection of historical legends and accounts that his father R. Juspa of Worms had written down
and has come down to us as Sefer Maase Nissim (A book of Wonders). These tales address
hostility toward Jews, popular persecution, and tolerance by the authorities, rape, magic,
miracles, romance, and events that changed the lives of individuals.

Part X. Muslim Libraries

The Koran calls the Jews the people of the book. Yet Arabic libraries in Bagdad, Cairo, Toledo, Cordovero
and elsewhere in the medieval ages shows that the Jews were not the only ones who cherished books.
Just as Latin literature drew heavily upon Greek literature both for themse and forms, so Arabic
literature imitated Old Persian Literature. An early Muslim ruler named claliph Al-Mamun (813-33) of
Bagdad gathered around him a great number of Syrian translators and scribes who converted into
Arabic the Greek-Syriac-Persian works which the Arabs had found in fallen Persia. One of the greatest of
these translators was Ayyub al-Ruhawi or Job of Edessa (ca. 760-835) a Nestorian Syrian. He was a
prolific writer but only two of his works have survived- a teatise on canine hydrophobia and an
encyclopedia of philosophical and natural science entitled The book of Treasures.374 Another famous
translator of works of Greek science was Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809-77) whose son and nephew followed in

Syriac version was translated by A. Mingana (Woodbrooke Scientific Publications, Cambridge 1935) see Isis XXV,
1936, 141-44.
his steps. He translated the works of Hippocrates and Galen, and with him the history of Arabain
medicine began. Following him came Al-Razi, known to western Europe as Rhazes. He was an Arabized
Persian and the greatest physician of the Muslim world, the author of over 200 works in medicine. Many
of the original Greek texts that he translated came to light again when in 1204 when Constantinople fell
into the hands of the Crusaders.375 The sack of the greats capital of Christendom resulted in the
peodigious number of manuscripts of all sorts being dispersed many of hwihc slowly found their way
west for years after.

Bagdad in tis glory hosted many libraries. Before caliph al-mamun in the time ofhis father Harun al-
Rashid the Arabian historian Omar al Waqidi (736-811) possessed one hundred and twenty camel loads
of books.376 Al Mamuns house of wisdom was founded shortly after around 813 CE. ; the vizier Adrashir
(1024) established the house of learning about 991; The Nizamiyah madrasah or college was founded in
1064; the Mustansiriyah madrasah in 1233, just 25 years befroet he destruction of Bagdad by the
Mongols.377 There were great collections and of a semipublic nature as well as many private libraries as
we know from the list or Fihrist378 compiled about 987 CE b al-Nadim, the son of a bookseller. Al
Baiquani (1033) had so many books that it required 63 hampers and two trunks to transport them.
Another Arab Bibliophile was Mohammed ben al-Husain of Haditha who was a friend of the author of
the Fihrist. His collection of rare manuscripts was so precious that it was kept under lock and key.
Bagdad possessed 36 libraries. The library of the vizier Ibn al-Alkami who owned 10,000 books perished
during the sack of the Bagdad by the Mongols in 1258 when every other library also was destroyed.
Bagdad also had over 100 book dealers who did business on stalls or in the bazaars and were stationers
who sold paper, ink, pens, etc. Some were also publishers who supported copiests who worked in

Every important city in Persia had its libraries.380 Libraries were found in Nishapur, Ispahan, Ghazanah,
Basrah, Shiraz, Merv, and Mosul. Farther east in Persia there were many private libraries. Caliphs and
princes encouraged learning. This was true of the Samanids in Bukhara, the Hamdamnids in Syria, and
the Buyyids of Shiraz. In Bukhara for example the famous physician and philosopher Abu Ali ibn Sina,
known as Avicenna (980-1037) was summoned by Sultan Nuh ibn Mansur to come to court. Avicenna
was then 18 years old and the royal book collection he saw at court astonished him. He writes: I found
there many rooms filled with books which were arranged in cases row upon row. One room was allotted
to works on Arabic philology and poetry; another to jurisprudence and so forth, the books on each
particular science having a room to themselves. I inspected the catalog of ancient Greek authors and

A.H.L. Heeren, Geschichte der classischen Literatur im Mittelalter, I, 152-56.
Margoliouth, op. cit, 192; A/ Grpj,amm.
Bobliotheken und Bibliophilen im islamischen Orient, Festschrift der Nationalbibliothek in Wien, (Vienna, 1926),
O. Pinto The Libraries of the Arabs during the time of the Abassids, Islamic Culture, III, 1929, 223-24.
Ed. G. Flugel (Leipzig, 1871-72); R.A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, Cambridge 1930, p.361-64.
A. Von Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen (Vienna, 1877), II, 483.
See E. Herzfeld, Einige Bucherschatze in Persien, Ephemerides orientales, Leipzig, 1926, no.28, p1-8
looked for books which I required ; I saw in this collection books of which few people have heard even
the names and which I myself have never seen either before or since.381

Nuh ibn Mansur also invited the eminent scholar Ibn Abbad (938-95) the first vizier to be called Sahib, to
become his chancellor. Abbad is said to have refused on the ground that it would require four hundred
camels to transport his books.382 The catalog of ibn Abbads library filled 10 volumes.

In the city of Rai (or Rayy) the vizier Ibn Al Amid (d. 971) was a passionate book lover. In 965
wandering sectarians broke into al-Amids house plundered the furniture and careid off his possessions.
Ibn Miskawaih al Amids librarian wrote: His heart sorrowed or his books for he loved them better than
anything else. There were man of them including sciences and all branches of philosophy and literature,
over 100 camel loads. When he saw me he asked me about his books 1st thing off, and hwen I told himt
hat there were safe that no hand had touched them, he brightened up and aid Thou art a child of
fortune all other things can be replaced but not copied manuscripts. And I saw that his face shone, and
he said, Bring them tomorrow to such and such a place, this I did. The books were all that was saved
from his property.383

Basrah had a library built by the courtier Adud el Daulah (d.982) where those who read or copied
received a stipend.384 In Ispahan a landowner established a library in 885 and spent 300,000 dirhems on
books.385 Ibn Hibban (d. 965) the qadi of Nishapur bequeathed to his city a house with a library and
quarters for foreign students and privded stipends for their maintenance but books were not to be
loaned out.386 Of the Persian libraries the best wer those of Shiraz and Merv. The Shiraz foundation was
built by the Buyyid prince Adud ad-Daula (d. 982) on his palace grounds. The library which contained
much scientific literature, was in charge of a director (wakil) a librarian (hazing) ad a superintendent
(muskrif). The books were stored in a long arched hall, with stack rooms on the sides. Each branch of
knowledge had separate bookcases and catalogs.387

At Merv at th time of the Mongul invasion in the 13th century there were no less than 10 libraries tow of
them in the mosques and the rest in the colleges. Yakut al Hamawi (1178-1229) the famous geographer
stayed in Merv for 3 years and marveled at the liberality with which the libraries loaned books to him.
My house says Yakut, was never clear of 200 volumes, taken on loan, or more tan dI had never to give a
deposit though their value was 200 dinars.388

The libraries of the Muslim empire were destored by the invading hordes of Mongols and Tatars
culminating in 1258 when Hulagu Khan sacked Bagdad. Neither Genghiz Khan nor Hulagu Khan had any
regard for institutions of culture. They stabled their horses in mosques, burned libraries, used precious

Nicholson, op cit. p.265-66.
Bukhah, op cit. p. 132
Mez, p. cit., p.166.
Pinto, p. cit. p.224-23
S Khudah Bukhsh, The Renaissance of Islam, Islamic Culture, IV, 1930, 295.
Ibid 297.
Von Kremer, II, 483-84
Pinto, 215.
manuscripts for fuel, and razed and conquered entire cities. In the sack of Bukhara 30,000 people were
slain With the exception of Timur (Timurlane) the Mongols destroyed written culture. Timberlane build a
large library in his capital of Samarkand.389

The first library in Cairo was established by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Aziz (975-96) in 988 in connection with
his house of learning, where 36 studentws were supported from endowments.390 This school had
100,000 volumes (some say 600,000) of bound books, among which were 2400 korans illuminated in
gold and silver. The rest of the books on jurisprudence, grammar, rhetoric, history, biography,
astronomy, and chemistry were kept in large presses around the walls which were divided into shelves
each of which had a door with a lock. Over the door of each section was nailed a list of all the books
contained therein as well as a notice of the lacunae in each branch of knowledge.391 A large part of the
collection went into the house of science or house of wisdom founded by Caliph al Hakim in 1004
which acquired so vast a collection of rare books that legend exaggerated its number to 1600,000 books.
In 1068 vizier Abu l-Faraj carried off 25 camel loads of books and sold them for 100,000 dinars to pay
his soldiery. A few months later the Turkish soldiers defeated the caliphs forces invaded the palace and
plundered the remaining books. The military mob tore the fine leather bindings and made shoes out of
these precious treasures and works of art. After this debacle the Fatimid princes again began to collect
books and in 1171 Saladin entered Cairo and found a library of 120,000 volumes in the palace. He gave
these books to the chancellor Al-Qadi al-Fadil.

Apart from Al-Hakims house of wisdom, Cairo possessed at least four great private libraries. Tow of
these belonged to Jews. The two Jewish libraries were those of Yakub ben Killis and the physician
Ephraim.393 Information on Cairos private libraries is derived from the history of Greek and Arabic
Physicians written by Ibn Ali Usaibia.394 For example the physician Mahmud ibn Fatik collected
innumberalbe books.

In 711 the Arabs conqured Spain and made Codova their capital. As in Bagdad and Cairo the caliphs were
patrons of book collecting and libraries. As in the other Islamic centers the Arabs cultivated Greek
sciences, wrote original books, and fostered learning and founded libraries. Arabic Spain had no less
than seventy libraries established in all important cities. The greatest library the largest in the world at
that time, was founded by Caliph Hakim II (d. 976) in Cordova. Hakim supported scholars and collected
books on a massive scale and continued to sponser translations. The library contained from 400,000 to
600,000 volumes some of which were supposed to have been catalogued and annotated by the caliph
himself. To quote inb Al Abar: I was told by Talid, the librarian and keeper of the repository of the
science in the palace of the Beni Merwan that the catalogue only of the books consisted of 44 volumes,
each volume having 23 sheets of paper, which contained nothng but the titles and descriptions of the

Browne, II, 12.
Pinto, 225
Grohmann, p.432.
Pinto, 227.
Pinto 216.
Uyun al anba fi tabqat al atibba ed. By A. Mueller (cairo, 1882, and Koenigsberg, 1884; extracts in L. Leclerc,
Histoire de la Medicine arabae (Paris 1876), I, 583-87
books.395 A staff of librarians, copyists, and binders was housed in the scriptorium of the palace of
Merwan where the collection was housed.

Abu al-Mutrif (d. 1011) a Cordovan judge possessed a large library of rare books and calligraphy. He
employed 6 copyists. The judge had copies made for gifts. After Al-Mutrifs death, his library was sold at
auction in the mosque for a whole year, brining in 40,000 dinars.396

All these libraries were destroyed like the ones in Bagdad during the Muslim cicil war sand conflicts
between Moorsh and Christian princes. Some were taken to Seville, some to Granada, some to Allmeira
and to other provincial cities. The age of Arabain learning says the biased and prejudiced Gibbon
continued for about 500 years. And was coeval with the darkest and most slothful period of European
annals.397 This is contrary to the understanding that the Muslim culture created a revival of Western
science. The impact of Arabian science and their translation into Latin was also significant. We must
understand that Muslimized Moors in 711 conquered Spain and converted the caliphate of Cordova and
that of Sicily into a Muslim province from 831 to 1090. It was geographically through lower Italy and
Spain that Muslim science which was remotely of Greek, Persian or Hindu origin, penetrated into
western Europe. The beginning of the medical school of Salerno was influenced by the 10th century
Arabian medical advances through Shabbethai ben Abraham ben Yoel, a Jew of Otranto in Lower Italy.
Ben Yoel was taken captive by Saracen pirates in 925 and carried to Palermo where he learned Arabic
and studied all the sciences of the Greeks and Arabs and Babylonians and Hindus. John of Gorze in 950
brought to Germany from Calabria copies of Greek scientific works and was the instrument fro the
conveyance of Arabic science north of the Alps and the earliest agent of its dissemination in Europe. In
953 Otoo the Great sent John of gorze on a mission to the caliph Abd-er Rahman III of Cordova where
John fell in with the distinguished Spanish Jewish scholar ibn Shaprut. John learned from ibn Shaprut fo
3 years and returned to Germany bringing back with him a horseload of Arabic books. The earliest
Western translator of Arabic works of science into Latin was Constatinus Africanus, A Christian who was
born in Carthage and was for many years a Muslim subject. In 1056 he became a monk in Monte
Cassiono. The historian Leo of Ostia calls him the master of East and West. The chief place for the
dissemination of Arabic science was Toledo the recovery of which by the Christians occurred in 1085.
Adelard monk of Bath and cousin of King Henry I was a pioneer in bringing Arabic rediscovery of Greek
science to the Latin reading world. His Quaestiones naturals may be said to have inaugurated the
intellectual revolution. By 1200 in addition to the works on optics and physics much of Greek science
and meidicne including Hippocrates and Galen was available in Latin translation together with the
summary of of Arabic medicine in Avicennas Canon of Medicine. Just as the early Middle ages was
influenced by Plinys Natural History and Senecas Natural Questions now the later Middle Ages had to
digest the new Greek-Arab learning. This Greek-Arabic heritage was perpetuated by the work of
Michael Scot, who had studied in Spain and whom Federick II called his courat at Palermo in Sicily.398

Ibn al Abar, quoted in al-Makkari, p.168-69
W. Gottschalf, Die Bibliotheken der Araber in Zeitaler der Abassiden Zentraklblatt fuer Bibliothekeswese,
XLVII, 1930, 1-6
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, VI, 28
Haskins, C.H. Michale Scot in Spain, in Homnaje a Bonilla y San Martin, publicado por la facultad de filosfia y
lettras de la Universidad central (Madrid 1930), II, 129-34.
Scot was born about 1200 in Scotland or Ireland and after studying at Oxford and Paris settled in Toledo
where he devoted himself to translations of divers scientific works from Arabic into Latin. His best
known work is Liber phisionomie which he wrote in Palermo. By the middle of the 13th century the
Isalmic sciences were translated by Eurpeans into Latin. This was just in time before the Mongol
invasions of the 13th century in the East which devasted Arabic Libraries and did not begin to recover
until the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. The expulsion of the moors from spain in 1492 was followed
by the destruction of thousands of Arabic books. What books were saved found lodgement in the
libraries of Fez or Tunis. In the sack of Tunis in 1536 by the Emperer Charles V, all books written in Arabic
were burned. The fate of the great libraries of Muslim science and culture of Bagdad, Cairo, and
Cordova were largely destroyed by Mongol and other invasions. Kal wa-homer we can only imagine the
terrible fate of Jewish texts, well before the expulsion of Jews in 1492 from Spain.

There are some interesting similarities and differences between the Muslim book and oral cultures and
the Jewish oral and textual traditions. Muslim sages possession memories of sacred texts and culture
were referred to in the biographical works as oceans (bahr) of learning, recepticles (wia pl. auiya) of
knowledge. So too masters of the Talmud were called swimmers of the sea where the Bavli was
metaphorized as the ocean, and one of the disciples of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakka in P.A. is referred to a
a cistern which does not loose a drop. Further the Talmudic legal debate and dialectic in shaqla va-
tarya has some parallels in the Islamic reasoning diraya. Both Islam and Jewish tradition also relied
although somewhat differently on oral transmission. Oral transmission as shown before was not only
the proper way of doing things for the Geonim, it was considered more reliable than written
transmission and it is to orally transmitted texts that the Geonim turn when questions arise regardin the
proper readings of a particular passage.399 In Islam oral transmission also played an essential role for
teachers or shaykhs would sit in teaching circles (halqas) and give over orally various learning. The
difference is that Islam embraced the codex earlier than the Jews. An Islamic student would hear the
teach dictating a book (samia minhu) and had transcribed what he had heard, or he had himself read
his transcription to the teacher (qara a alayhi) who corrected any mistakes in the students recitation
and copy. At a higher level the student could ask for ijaza, of a different kind, certifying that he was
competent to teach a certain book or subject or to issue legal opinions (fatwas ) as mufti- analogous
lihavdil to semikhah. This certification however was unlike a Christian (Latin) university degree, licentia
dicendi) which was granted by Eurpean Universities only upon Church consent. An ijaza could be an
elaborate document mentioning a whole chain of transmission from teacher to student over the
generations and so inserting the recipient into a long chain of oral transmitting ancestors.400 The

See: Brody, Sifrut ha-Teonim, p. 243-244 and Y.N. Epstein Mervoot le-Sifrut ha-Amoraim (Jerusalem, 1962),
140-141; Epstein cites a response of Hai Caon in which it is stated that the amoraci stricture against wriing
halakhot (those who write halakhot are as if those who burn the torah) appied only to the earlier times, but now
when hears have become constricted and people (alma) need to look into a tet (nosah) those who write halakhot
do well.
The origin of the term ijaza is discussed by Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, trans. C.R. Barber and S.M. Stern
(London, 1971), 175-180; Tritton, Materials 40ff; As-Salih, Ulum al-Hadith (Beirut 1965), 95ff; Makdisi, The Rise
of Colleges, 140-152; Bukhsh Khuda, The Educational System of the Muslims in the Middle Ages, Islamic Culture
1 (1927), 455-457. George Vajda, De la transmission orale du savoir dans LIslam traditionnel, in La Transmission
du savoir en Islam, ed. Nicole Cottard (London 1983), 4-6
difference in that Islam relied on the codex as a part of the chain of oral transmission employed the
isnad formula whereby the author heard from or takes from this or that authority and now he is
handing it down from him (rawa anhu). True knowledge derives only from a learned person insisted
Badr al-Din ibn Jamaa the early 14th century scholar and jurist, and not from books and institutions.
Islamic religious law (the sharia) was transmitted from generation to generation ideally in oral form.
The relationship between the teacher shaykh and his disciple often is termed as one of friendship,
subba or apprenticeship or companions sahaba. The Sunni ulama are interpreters of the Sunna of the
Muhammed his sayings and doings that were eventually established as legally binding precedents. . By
hearing Islamic teaching directly from his shaykh and obtaining ijaza from him, the disciple could could
enter into the chain of oral transmission. The madrasa or study group conformed in circles halqa the
students sitting in a semicircle with the teacher at the remote end and his closest disciple or sahib nex to
him. In some ways lihavidil this may find parallels In the semicircles of the Yavne academy founded by
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. Many Islamic scholars have pointed out that to study at the feet of a
prominent scholar was more important than the empty elitism of being associated with a distinguished
institution. For example the objective of the travels in search of knowledge (ribla fi talab al-ilm) of the
young Abu Sad al-Isfahani (d. 1145) paid little respect to institutions but rather only to teachers who
were independent and outside institutions, i.e. learning privately. The term alim refers to a student who
has become a legal expert under the guidance of a teacher irrespective if the teacher is connected with
an institution or not. This private study may contrast with the Yeshiva as an institution and the Yeshiva
curriculum of Talmud learning. Often the continuing publication of halakhic compendia, biblical
commentaries, and philosophical works was outside the Yeshiva curriculum. For example the Sura
Yeshiva for which we have R. Nathan ha-Bavlis description functioned mostly as a high court and center
for Talmud and not for publishing. R. Nathan ha-Bavli estimated that the Yeshiva had about 400
students. We may assume that even when texts were made available local transmission was done orally
as Goitein notes: Learning by rote the exact wording and cantillation of an ancient text was regarded as
a prerequisite for its proper interpretation in high studies, as it was in the elementary school.401 It was
also assumed that the order of prayer attributed to R. Amram Gaon inn the middle of the 8th century
was memorized by all Yeshiva members and laymen as well as prayer did not relay on what today is
known as the democratic distribution of siddurim, in a culture of oral trasnsmission. Oral transmission
and memorization and not necessarily from a written text, were the standard traditional and accepted
mode of doing things in Jewish society. In the world of the geonic Yeshivot the Gaon and the reshei
Kallah wre the guarantors of the accuracy of oral transmission. Thus the interface between orality and
literacy in the Islamic madrasa is different from that of the Geonic yeshivot. Transmission in the madrasa
is direct and from the mouths of great ones but it is not primarily oral nor is orality priviledged in that
it is held to produce a more accurate text. The lesson of ijaza is just the reverse; neither oral nor written
transmission alone is to be trusted. Orality was of greater importance within the Geonic context.
Transmission in the yeshivot was primarily and almost exclusivel oral while in the madras it was both
oral and written. The importance in Islam was to study privately with a great scholar or publically in the
madrasa, while the Yeshivot were Rabbinic academies with politics and institutionalized customes and
ways. In this way the Islamic madrasa was closer to the amoraic metivta than it was to the geonic

Goitein, A Mediterrean Society, 2:209.
yeshivot, with their faculty and institutional character. The Madrasa was the vehicle for transmitting the
madhab, it was not its originator. The Geonic Yeshivot claimed to be the heirs of the Babylonian Talmud
which is largely the debates between tannaim and amoraim as a collective transgenerational discussion.

While the process of the collection of hadiths may be reminiscent of the redaction of the Mishnah and
the compilation of the baraitot the redaction of Bavli which is characterized by its dialectic, is somewhat
parallel to the Islamic diraya, which is equated with fiqh, Law. Those who engaged in diraya sometimes
looked down at those who were restricted to memorizing text or riwaya, recollecting how the amoraim
sometimes looked down on the tannaim, those living books who repeated traditions a a donkey
carrying many books.402 To use this analogy the Talmud is an amalgam of of riwaya and diraya asar ethe
halakhic compendia. In Islam however they were kept separate, in the need for ijaza. The Islamic
madrasa was in its early days closely tied to the halqa, and still priviledged oral transmission. But as the
halqa gave way to the madras orality gave way and the culture become more written. Differently the
Geonic yeshivot still retained old preferences for orality and oral transmission. While one who had ijaza
could go out and teach and the text was written, no haver of a Yeshiva could go out and establish a new
geonic yeshiva. The story of R. Aha of Shabha the purpoted author of the earliest geonic compilation,
the Sheiltot, which attributes the compilation to R. Ahas loss of the Geonate and his subsequent move
to Palestine demonstrates this assumption. The closed hierarchical nature of geonic society and
economic forces undoubtedly separates and differentiates the Muslim and the Jewish educational
institutions and curriculum.


Some Christian scholars admired the dedication of some Jews commitment to the principle of learning
lishma. For instance one of Peter Abelard's students in the 12th century wrote a letter in which he
contrasted the Jewish emphasis on education exemplified by the regularity with which Jews out of zeal
for G-d and love of the law, put as many sons as they have to letters, that each may understand G-d's
law... We read,

"If the Christians educated their sons they do so not for G-d but for gain, in order that the one brother
if he be a clerk (a cleric), may help his father and mother and his other brothers.... But the Jews out of
zeal for G-d and love of the law, put as many sons as they have to letters, that each may understand
G-d's law...." 403

However like Christian students Jewish students often traveled from one school of one school to soak
up wisdom from a variety of teachers. Rashi writes, "Like doves that wander from one dovecote o the
second to seek their food, so they go from the school of one scholar to the school of another scholar
to seek explanations.... for the Torah.404

Makdisi, the Rise of Colleges, 144.
Smalley, Study of the Bible, 78.
Rashi on Shir Hashirim 5:16
However many Christian scholars valued libraries, perhaps just or more than Jewish scholars whose
learning took place mostly in the Beit Midrash setting in active debate of makloket, fighting the
Milhamot Hashem with the swords of pilpul by the bucherim. Christian monastic libraries were
sanctuaries of quiet, peace, and quietude compared to the Beit Midrashic settings of loud and lively
debate. We see this in the comment of Paulinus of Nola who comments: Here he whose thoughts are
on the laws of God May sit and ponder over holy books.405 Bede also articulates a great admiration and
valueization of the place and purpose of the monastic library when he comments,

' All my life I spent in that same Monastery, giving my whole attention to the study of the Holy
Scriptures, and in the intervals between the hours of regular discipline and the duties of singing in the
church, I took pleasure in learning, or teaching, or writing something." 406

Alcuin echoes this high estimation of the importance of the monastic library when he comments: Oh
how sweet life was when we sat quietly ... midst all these books.' 407 As late at 1605 Francis Bacon, the
author of the Organon and modern Scientific method, writes of the importance of libraries and learning
that he fears is under attack and question by commenting:

A love of learning arose in me almost from earliest childhood, and I did not despise what many people
today speak of as a horrible waste of time. And if there had not been a lack of teachers, and if the
study of the ancient writers had not passed almost into oblivion through long neglect, perhaps, with
the help of God, I could have satisfied my craving, for within your memory there has been a revival of
learning, thanks to the efforts of the illustrious emperor Charles to whom letters owe an everlasting
debt of gratitude. Learning has indeed lifted up its head to some extent, and support has been given
to the truth of Cicero's well known dictum, "Honor nourishes the arts, and all men are aroused to the
pursuits of learning by the hope of glory." In these days those who pursue an education are
considered a burden to society, and the uneducated who commonly look up to men of learning as if
seated on a high mound impute any fault which they may find in them to the quality of their training,
not to human frailty. Men have consequently shrunk from this noble endeavor, some because they do
not receive a suitable reward for their knowledge, others because they fear an unworthy reputation.
It is quite apparent to me that knowledge should be sought for its own sake

Libraries are as the shrines where all the reliques of the ancient saints, full of true virtue, and that
without delusion or imposture, are preserved, and reposed408

Si quem sancta tenet meditandi in lege voluntas Hic poterit residens sacris intendere libris.
Cunctum vite tempus in ejusdem Monaster ii habit atione peragens^ omnem meditandis Scripturis operam dedi
; atque inter observantiam disciplinse regularis et quotidianam cantandi in ec- clesia curam, semper aut discere,
aut docere, aut scribere dulce habui." See: Bede Historia ecclesiastica v. 24
O quam dulcis vita fuit dum sedebamus in quieti ... inter librorum copias." See: Alcuin Ep. Xxii
Amor litterarum ab ipso fere initio pueritiae mihi est innatus, nec earum, ut nunc a plerisque uocantur,
superstitiosa uel [superuacua] otia fastidiui; et nisi intercessisset inopia praeceptorum et longo situ collapsa
priorum studia pene interissent, largiente deo meae auiditati satisfacere forsitan potuissem; siquidem uestra
memoria per famosissimum imperatorem K[arolum], cui litterae eo usque deferre debent ut aeternam ei parent
memoriam, coepta reuocari, aliquantum quidem extulere caput satisque constitit ueritate subnixum praeclarum
Cic[eronis] dictum: honos alit artes et accenduntur omnes ad studia gloria. Nunc oneri sunt qui aliquid discere
These comments by Christian scholars illustrate that the understanding of the importance of library and
learning is not unique to the Jews. In fact the modern conception of a library as a sanctum silentia
probably owes more of its history to the Christian medieval monastic scirptorium.409 A modern no
talking in the library sign comes down to us from the medieval library as a notice Ad interventorem of
the potential talkaktive intruder: Non patitur quenquam coram se scriba loquentem: Non est hic quod
agas garrule, perge foras.410 The ideal of the medieval Beit Midrash was the hum and buzz of passionate
Talmudic debate and lively discussion of a cacophony of voices echoing the original thunder of the
Sinaitic revelation. By the lightning flashes of insight that occur in silent meditation, this too was not
foreign to the Jews as noted in Maimonides emphasis on silent contemplation of the eternal truths
beyond language itself based on a pusek in Tehillim that one rest on their bed an contemplate Hashems
goodness. According to the Rambam Moshe Rabenu was in constant illumination so that night was to
him as if day for his mind was flashing in constant lightning flash insights. However communal learning
in public was one of active articulated speech in the Beit Midrashic context. This was the norm of
Rabbinic studies, not the Christian model of the cloistered monastic cell conducive to quiet
contemplation and meditation.

It should be noted that the restoration of scrolling on computer screens today should be compared not
to the ancient Hebrew horizontal book form of scroll read in the synagogue unfolded horizontally but to
the roll described in latin sources as written transversa charta , termed by Lloyd Daly and Eric Turner
rotulus. A vertically written unfolded and read scroll employed in antiquity and in the early middle ages
in both the west and east for documentary purposes, was later adopted by Christian liturgy and Hebrew
and Arabic literary texts.411

Latin texts in the mid 13th century were mainly produced in and disseminated by institutional copying
centers of monastic multicopyist scriptoria, or cathedral schools, then by university stationers employing
the pecia system. In the late middle ages commercial urban and lay ateliers took over.412 Malachi Beit
Arie argues that in contrast Hebrew medieval books were not produced by the intellectual
establishments or upon their inititiative, whether in religious, academic, or secular institutional copying
centers, but privately and individually and similarly they were also consumed and kept.413 In this way
Hebrew book medieval production resembled more the Arabic model [on a lesser scale] whereby caliphs

affectant; et uelut in editio sitos loco studiosos quosque imperiti uulgo aspectantes, si quid in eis culpae
deprehenderunt, id non humano uitio, sed qualitati disciplinarum assignant. Ita, dum alii dignam sapientiae
palmam non capiunt, alii famam uerentur indignam, a tam praeclaro opere destiterunt. Mihi satis apparent
propter se ipsam appetenda sapientia (Lupus Servati Lupi epistulae [SLE] 1).
Clark writes of monastic libraries, It was required by the ancient rules of the library as sanctum, that reading,
writing, and handling of books should go forward In complete silence. (See: Libraries in the Medieval and
Renaissance periods, p. 40).
See: Clarke, J.W., Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods, Argonaut Publishers, p. 55
Add Exultet: Rotoli litugiei del mediovevo meridionale ed. Guglielmo Cavallo, Giulia Orofino and Oronzo Pecere
(Rome: Istituto poligrafico e zecca dello Stato and Libreria dello Stato, 1994); Andre Jacob, Rouleaux grecs et latins
dand litalie meridionale Recherches de codicologie compare: La compaosition du codex au Moyen Age, ed.
Phillippe Hoffmann (Paris: Presses de lecole nomrale superieure 1998), 69-97.
See: Rouse, Richard, Manuscripts, Production of in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, NY: 1987, 8:100-105
Beit Arie, Malachi, :Jewish Scribality and Its Impact, p. 229.
employed private calligraphers, numerous public libraries and helped by the extensive
commercialilzation of books through the warraqin, paper, and book dealers, whereby the dominant
nature of Arabic book production and comumption seems to have been private, boosted bythe early
introduction of the cheaper writing material of paper. While institutional and centralized nature of Latin
book production involved control and standardization of the text produced,414 no authoritative
supervision was involved in the transmission of Hebrew texts privately funded by individuals not
necessarily connected with a Rabbinic institution. Beit Arie draws his conclusions of the self-production
practice and extent in Jewish booklore from the systematic study of colophons. Since 1965 the Hebrew
Paleography Project stored in its SFARDATA, a sophisticated quantitative database and retreiveal system
of over 4000 measurable codicological attributes recorded in most of the extant explicity dated and in
the undated but otherwise colophoned or named Hebrew medieval Manuscripts sponsored by the Israel
Academy of Sciences and Humanities in collaboration with the Jewish National and Univeristy Library in
Jerusalem. This project was also carried out by the the Institut de Recherche et DHistoire des Texts in

The work of Ornato and his colleagues who revitalized Latin codicology in the book, Le face cache du
livre medieval: LHistoire du livre vue par Ezio Ornato, ses amis ses collegues (Rome, Viella, 1997) is the
title that inspired Beit Arie to name his own book: Unveiled Faces of Medieval Hebrew Books: The
Evolution of Manuscript Production Progression or regression (Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
Magnes Press, , Jerusalem) which follows in the footsteps of this work in Latin codicology. Following the
notion of progressive evolution with which Ornatos writings are charged, Beit Arie discusses 5 different
aspects of the production of medieval Hebrew hand-written books: (1) technical practices, (2) line
management, (3) the structural disposition of the text and its transparency,(4) the nature of textual
transmission, and (5) the selecting of the book script. Thus Beit Arie focuses on studying the history of
the handwritten book in all its other civilizations including those of Christianity which employed Latin.
415Due to the far flung territorial dispersion of the Jews and their abundance to their natural script,
medieval manuscripts written in Hebrew characaters were produced in a territorial range larger than
that of the Christian Latin texts. In contrast Christian society where literarcy was concentrated among
clerics and aristocrats Jewish society was largely classless and lieracy was widespread. Extensive book
consumption and a remarkable high rate of user produced books which was initiatd not by intellectual
or academic establishments bu privately.

While some Christians might have been sensitive to the learned tradition of the Jews and some Jews
dedication to learning lishma, one cannot avoid the persecution by the Church of Jewish scribal
traditions in the form of confisgation, censorsing, and burning Jewish Hebrew texts. The case of a

See: the controlled process of producing books in the scriptorium of Frankenthal presented by A. Cohen-
Mushlin, a Medieval Scriptorium: Sancta Maria Magdalena de Frankendal, 2 vols., Wiesbaden, 1990. See also: M.C.
Garand, Manuscrits monastiques et scriptoria aux XI et XII sicles, in Codicologica: Towards a Science of
Handwritten books, ed. A. Gruijs and J.P. Gumbert, Leiden, 1980, 3:9-33.
Beit Arie, Malachi Unveiled Faces of Medival Hebrew Books, p. 14; also see Beit Arie, Transmission of Texts by
scribes and copyists: Unconscious and Critical Inferences, Bulletin of John Rylands University Library of
Manchester 75.3 (Autumn 1993). In Artefact and Text: The Recreation of Jewish Literature in Medieval Hebrew
Manuscripts, Proceedings of Conference Held in University of Manchester 28-30 April 1992.)
document which contains the inventories of 26 Jewish libraries of the 15th century located in the Archivo
Historico Provincial de Huesca and belongs to the section on Jaca in that archive, consisting of 5 folios
written on both sides, which contains 600 listed Hebrew books is a case and point.416 The genre of this
text may be described as papeles sueltos or papeles extravagantes. The document is a memorial417 of
Hebrew books confisgated from the Jews in Jaca following the Tortosa Disputation of 1414 in which
Rabbi Yosef Albo hermeneutically defeated his Chrisitan intolocuter, thus causing resentment and
making the Church feel that the Talmud contained anti-Chrisitian elements that needed to be censored
to weaken the stubborn Jews refutations of the truths of Christianity. This historical context of this
library list is the pragmatic or ordinance of Pedro de Luna, the antipope Benedict XIII. It was
promulgated aftet the Disputation of Tortosa and San Mateo (1413-1414).418 The Eclesiastical goal of the
disputation was aimed at the conversion of the Jews and to expose Jewish errors in belief and conduct..
The Talmud as evidence on the docet and and as authoritative religious text seen to give Judaism its
raison detre and satanic power was the major issue of the disputation as seen from the polemical
books on the subject to which it gave rise.419 The edict to confisgate Jewish books stems from the 1415
legislation of Beneditc and King of Aragon, Ferdinand I of Antequera, who issued statutes discriminating
agians the Jews which are modeled on the Statutes of Valladolid of 1412.420 These laws demanded that
Jews should turn over their books to the authorities. The Antipopes pragmatic Etsi doctoribus gentium
gives as its justification Jewish blindness (judaicae caecitatis) and the damage done by Jewish
doctrines.421 Orders of Gregory VIII and Innocent IV are given as precedents for the proscription of the
Talmud. The pragamatic decrees that within a month of its publication all books or volumes or writings
containing the said Talmud doctrine422 should be taken from the Jews and kept in the Cathedral of
each dioces, to be kept under lock and key of the authority of the diocesan or his vicar. Benedict invites

See E. Gutwirth, Jewish Readers and their Libraries in Late Medieval Spain, and E. Guwirth, Twenty-Six Jewish
Libraries from Fifteenth Century Spain,
The heading of the document reads: Anno a Nativitate Domini M. CCCCXV. Memoiral de lost libros judaycos, los
quales son seydos livrados al honorable don Pero Dorant lugarteniente por el muyt honorable mossen Anthan de
Bardaxi justicia de la ciudat de Jacca, por la alimama de la dita ciudat singualares judios de aquella e son segund se
siguen (The year of our Lord 1415. Memorial of the Jewish books which were delivered to the honorable don Pedro
Dorant lietenant for the hnourable messer Anthon de Bardaxi justice of the town of Jaca by the aljama (Jewish
community) of the said town and its invidual members.)
See Baer, Y., A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, 3 vols, Philadelphia, 1968, II, 229
E. Gutwirth, Conversions to Chrstiantiy in LAge Medieval Spain: An Alternative Explanation, S. Simonsohn
Jubilee Volume, Studies on the Hsitory of the Jews in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period, ed. By D. Carpi et al
(Tel Aviv, 1993), p.97-122, notes 67-68
See E. Gutwirth the Jews in 15th century Castilian Chronicles, JQR, 84, April 1984, 379-96; In the confirmation
signed in Valencia on 23 July 1415 Ferdinand ordered hat the books should be deposited with the official ordinari
and that these Church officials should deliver them into the hands of the diocesan: sien posats en mans e poder del
official ordinary sens tota altra excusacio los quals aquells liuren al diocesans o oficials ecclesiastics per co que
aquelles puxan ordonar. [see F. Vendrel Gallostra, En torno a la confirmacion real de la pragmatic de Bendecito
XIII, Sefarad 20, 1960, 319-51
Quaedam perverse doctina potissima et quae post Ihu. Xi. Salvatoris adventum per quosdam Sathanae filios
conferta est apud judaeos Talmud vocata (the highly pernicious doctrine called Talmud by the Jews was
invented by certain sons of Satan after the coming of our Savior J.C. (in Amador de los Rios, Historia social religiosa
y politica de los judios de Espana, reprint Madrid, 1984, II, appendix xx.
Aut per modum glosae, apostillae, summae compendia vel alias quovis directe vel indirecte ad doctrinam
eamdem quomodolibet pertinerites
the Inquisitors responsible for destroying heresy to seek out those Jews who still have hidden books.
Christians who have Hebrew books with a license to try to convert Jews need not turn over their Hebrew
books. He further decrees that there should be a search for further such Talmud books every two years
and that those found in possession of such Rabbinic texts will be punished not excluding execution.
The proscription of Hebrew books was handed over by Jewish communal authorities to the Christian
authorities Anton de Bardaxi, caballero and Justicia of the town fo Jaca. The Jewish community was
represented by 3 invidividuals two of whom, Azerian (i.e. Azariah) avingoyos sonof Judah and Azerian
Avingoyos son of Jacob, who were officers of the Jewish communal council bearing the title of
adelantado. Barjala Abandbron son of Acach (i.e. Isaac) was the 3rd representative of the Jewish
community. According to Papal demands the books were given over to two canons and vicars general fo
the chapter of Jaca cathedral i.e. Raimundo de Garz and Garcia de la Rada. It was their function to
censor the texts. The inventory was written by an anonymous notary on Friday 27 December 1415
which lists 600 books from 26 Hispano-Jewish libraries. The term quadernios (quires) rather than
notebooks is used in the description: Item hun saquo pleno de quadernios e libros de Talmut ( a bag full
of quires and books of the Talmud). Abscent from the confisgation are romance readings.423

Jewish comments about libraries from the Rishonim periods emphasize practical concerns. For example
Yehudah Ibn Tibbon in his famous letter to his son advises, Cover your bookcases with rugs and linens
of fine quality; preserve them from dampness and mice and injury; for it is your books that are your true
treasure. And further Rabbi Yehudah ibn Tibbon advises to lend only to those who are trustworthy to
ensure the return of precious manuscripts. We recall his advice to his son further, Never refuse to lend
books to anyone who cannot afford to purchase them, but lend books only to those who can be trusted
to return them. Rabbi Judah of Regensburg however seems to emphasize the democratization of
knowledge and sharing of precious texts by commenting, If you have one child who does not like to
lend books, and another child who does, leave your library to the second, even if that child is younger.
(Sefer Hasidim13th century). Medieval libraries often solved the problem of losing books when lending
them by chaining books to desks or cases. J.W. Clarke writes, Such cases as these must have been in
use at the Sorbonne where a library was first established in 1289 for books chained for the common
convenience of the Fellows (in communem sociorum utilitatem).424 Clark argues that the invention of
printing had largely increased the number of volumes, and at the same time diminished their value, so
that chaining was no longer necessary.425

While the Christian tradition is more the origin of modern libraries as quite spaces, which of course is
changing in the post-modern age as libraries become hubbubs for new social media technologies, Jews
were not without their valuation of textual collections in the medieval ages. The Hai Gaon, Head of the
Beit Din in Babylon during the Geonic period (998 CE) comments, Three possessions should you prize: a
field, a friend, and a book. Further a Talmudic dictum enjoins, None is poor save him that lacks

For some discovered examples of the romance reading of Hispanic Jews see: E. Gutwirth Fragments de
Siddurim espanoles de la Geniza, Separad 40 (1980), 389-401; Geniza Fragments in Judeo-Spanish, Anuario de
Filogia 9 (1983), 219-23; A Medieval Spanish Translation of Avot: Geniza Fragments, Annali dell Isituto Orientale di
Napoli, 49, (1989) 289-300
Clark, J.W., Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods, Chicago: Argonaut publishers, 1894, page 38
Clark, J.W., Libraries in Medieval and Renaissance Periods, Argonaut Publishers, p.49.
knowledge suggesting that books are the sepulchers of knowledge and from them one can increases
wisdom, understanding and knowledge. This is seen in Rambams Moreh HaNevukhim where the
Rambam notes in the introduction that this work is a kind of key that will open the gates of the
palaces of heaven into which the soul can be ushered , delighted, and refreshed by fountains of wisdom.
This comment of the Rabbam clearly is a part of the Hekhalot tradition where it was believed that angels
of various ranks are giving derashot on various divine topics in the chambers of the 7 palaces in heaven.
The meritorious have the right to listen to these shiurim. The Rambam notes (Hilknt Teshuva) there the
righteous sit with crowns on their heads enjoying the ziv shekhinah, where the crowns on the heads are
proportional to the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge gained in olam ha-zeh. The Rambams
second metaphor for the nature of his book the Moreh Nevukhim is that it is like a precious jewel like
pearl that the Rambam has doven down to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve. Clearly this is an allusion
to the Shas as the SEA, and the allusion may also take on a personal biographical note as Rambams
brother, Rabbi David Maimon, who supported the Rambam by dealing in precious gems, financially to
learn for many decades, was lost at sea in a shipwreck on the Indian ocean when the family jewel
collection that sunk to the bottom of the Indian ocean.

This is not just to comment as Shmuel haNagid does when he writes, Books lead us into the society of
those great men with whom we could not otherwise come into personal contact. They bring us near to
the geniuses of the remotest lands and times. A good library is a place, a palace, where the lofty spirits
of all nations and generations meet. Rather for the Rambam much more is at stake. According to the
Rambam the Mishneh Torah itself is the life raft that will free one from their mental Egypts or
confusions. That is to say the yad hazakah, the strong hand (the MT. is in 14 sections, yod= gematria of
14) is the outstretched arm and strong hand that will free one from false opinions and intellectual
confusions. The MT. itself will be the one set desired in the messianic era above all else. It is the Moreh
Nevukhim however that the Rambam devoted the last part of his life to writing, that is the text for
perfecting knowledge and bringing one out of perplexities. It is the key that enters one into the palaces
of shamayim. This is not to say that the Guide is the esoteric text and the MT. the exoteric text of the
Rambam as Struasians hold nor as Rabbi I. Twerski holds the MT. is the esoteric text and the Guide the
exoteric text. They are texts in tandem. They are required to both be learned from. They are the 2 keys
to the seals in Hashems heavenly abode from which the careful reader can benefit with eternal rewards
in olam habah. The stakes are high for a life redeemed by the pursuit for divine knowledge in quest for
intellectual-moral-and spiritual wisdom, or a life unredeemed the unexamined life, factor into the
reward of one in olam ha-bah as Rambam notes in Hilkhot Teshuvah 8:2

. .

" .

Maimonidean virtue demands that thought not go on Holiday426 and that the goal of all education is
intellectual perfection that occurs when the sekel ha-poel contemplates the attributes of Hashem.

The Rambam certainly would cherish Jewish libraries because sparks from the anvils of Rabbinic
understanding remain hidden in the texts. These sparks hearken to that eternal fire by which the luchot
were carved when Har Sinai was aflame with Hashems fiery word whereupon the lightning was heard
and the thunder was seen. This mixed metonymy gestures towards the importance of orality and oral
transmission of oral torah. The lightning flashes that are usually seen became heard in the resounding
oral transmission from Jewish teacher to disciple, and G-ds thundering word is seen not in the mighty
blasts of his omnipotent abilities but in the still small voice that comes after the storm. Orality in the
medieval ages functions as the merkavah of Elijah who shows up after the storm. Hashem himself shows
up after the storm in Sefer Iyov, where G-d asks Iyov:

. ( ); , - - 1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the

whirlwind, and said:

. - -- , 2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without


. , ; - 3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of

thee, and declare thou unto Me.

. - ,;
- , 4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the
earth? Declare, if thou hast the understanding.

. - ; , - 5 Who determined the measures thereof, if thou

knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it?

. , - ; , - 6 Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened?

Or who laid the corner-stone thereof,

. - , ; , - 7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the

sons of God shouted for joy?

The phrase appears in the Notebooks of Ludwig Wittgenstein
. , ; 8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, and
issued out of the womb;

. , ; 9 When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick

darkness a swaddling band for it,

. , ; 10 And prescribed for it My decree, and set bars and


. , - ; , - -- 11 And said: 'Thus far shalt thou come, but no

further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed'?

. ; ( ) , 12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy

days began, and caused the dayspring to know its place;

, 13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and
the wicked be shaken out of it?

. , ; , 14 It is changed as clay under the seal; and they stand

as a garment.

. ,;
15 But from the wicked their light is withholden, and
the high arm is broken.

. , ; - - , 16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or

hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep?

. ; - , 17 Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee? Or

hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?

. - ,;
- - , 18 Hast thou surveyed unto the breadths of the earth?
Declare, if thou knowest it all.

. - ,; - , - 19 Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and as for

darkness, where is the place thereof;

, - ;- .

May we all search for Hashems light and be meritorious to bask in the light of the Shekhinah in olam ha-
bah. While human intellect has its limits G-ds wisdom has no bounds but is indeed ayn sof. It is the
medieval texts, in both its oral and written form, that can lead us to that place of the dwelling of infinite
divine light. For this reason Jewish libraries are more precious than Rubies. Their value is beyond all
human valuation, beyond the bottom line. See:

By better understanding the historical evolution of Jewish libraries from antiquity [see:
to the present we hopefully better appreciate, cherish, and value the importance of Jewish libraries
for all peoples at all times. Libraries are more than quite spaces for contemplation, they are the
epicenter of knowledge, and the heart of any educational organization. They are the reason and purpose
for which any institution of higher learning exists. Not as static spaces that serve as graveyards for great
ideas of the masters of the past. But rather transcending time itself, the eternal ideas in the texts on the
shelves teach us to become walking texts whereby the knowledge in the books on the shelves is
internalized and integrated into our souls. Those eternal ideas are true for all times, all peoples
regardless of differences in culture, education, economic, social, and other differences. They are ideas
that are not in the now but eternal and thus outside of time itself (See: http://www.h- )

Life itself is a text of the Creation of the symphony of Hashem. The fish jumping out of a glacial lake in
the Alps and slapping its back against the crystal pure water is the Amen of G-ds Symphony of

Libraries play the key role in developing and shaping the intellectual perfection (shelmut sekli),
correcting false opinions (tikkun ha-nefesh). Libraries are spaces of holiness (kedusha) that cause us to
strive for ever perfecting holiness. They not only increase our knowledge of Hashem (daat Hashem) but
perhaps more importantly our ahavas Hashem, and ahavas Torah. Thus libraries are more than memory
banks that preserve knowledge. Rather Jewish libraries are sacred spaces, because they are sacred
spaces of memory and creativity that not only preserve the past but provide the potential for their
patrons to forecast the future. We cannot know where we are going unless we know where we have
been. The library lets us know via its texts where we have been and provide guidance for navigating our
future courses. The library as ibn tibbon invokes is like a garden that delights and refreshes the mind as
the Provencal physician enjoins:

Make thy books thy companions; let thy cases and shelves by thy pleasure-grounds and gardens. If thy
soul be satiate and weary, change from garden to garden, from furrow to furrow, from prospect to
prospect. Then will thy desire renew itself, and thy soul be filled with delight.

Yet the stakes are higher than delight in olam ha-zeh. Indeed the library provides the potential for
redemption in olam ha-bah, for all of us must appear in the Ebesters court and give an account, the
account book of our lives, how we have dedicated our moral compass to pursuit of the quest of
hokmah, binah, ve-daas. Was learning torah a calling? How did we engage in torah lishmah? This
process is a redemptive process and the books and knowledge banks in the libraries we inhabit can
potentially help enhance this goal and bring us closer to Hashem. The library is more than an enchanted
space, a Shakespearean forest of Arden or a place where Prospero of the Tempest can carry out his
magic and create a Golem in the figure of Ariel to fly about and perform magical acts, for the library is a
sacred space where patrons can seek to develop their highest potential intellectually, morally, and
spiritually in reaching for the stars- extende ad astra. Each good book is a potential Urim veThumim. It
can change who we are for the better, if we internalize its contents and begin to perceive reality through
its lens and insights. The library that houses such sepulchers of wisdom, is truly dynamically alive for
patrons who benefit from the myriads of knowledge invested there. Perhaps too as according to Sefer
Hasidim, even the souls of those who have moved on, seek refuge and comfort by tuning into the
thoughts that are emanated from the sacred space of the library. Yet we must know how to receive the
knowledge invested in the libraries holdings including books.

The forgotten kind of reading, langesame lessen, and critical thinking is in jeopardy and at risk to the
mindlessness of the post-modern mindset where many want quick fixes, fast food, sound byte levels of
lack of understanding, nihilistic music that falsely believes that amplitude is a function of sublimity (das
erhabene, peri huppsos) , and falsely believe that with the quick click of the mouse their assignment is
complete, when the process of research has not even begun, not to mention the critical thinking and
organizing required after the gathering of primary and secondary sources. In these dark times, a time of
world wars, genocide, exploitation of the environment, environmental decay, and the eradication of the
ability to think amongst great masses of persons who believe that material gain is the ultimate goal so
that the person with the most sophisticated technicallical gadgets at the end of life wins, may we all
see the true light and strive to reach the abode of light alluded to in Sefer Iyov, and which Rashi
promises us is stored up for the righteous in olam ha-bah. As Kohelet notes Happy is the man who has
seen the light of the sun. However rare and few are philosophers, Strauss notes we are lucky if we
were ever to meet one, such as meeting one of the hidden lamed vav nicks, who are able to make the
ascent to the forms (eidos), from the shadows on the walls of the cave whereby those shadows
represent the false opinions of the many, ad captum vulgi. Librarians should help their patrons come to
understand dross from the light of truth. Librarians should understand themselves how the opinions of
the many are mostly false, and if true only accidentally true, and help our patrons prepare themselves
for their ultimate journey whereby they must give an account before the throne of Hashem. A good
librarian prepares his patron for that redemptive journey to the heavenly court and equips the patron
with the intellectual ability to prove before the tribunal of reason the truth claims of revelation, creation
ex nihilo (yesh miayin), the attributes of hashem, or whatever else epistemological subject a journeyman
in this world might seek after in establishing with certainty by valid, sound, and true understanding.
Correctness of opinion is of no interest to reaching that goal. Correctness is merely the spirit of the fad
of its times, the zeitgeist of the rise and fall of various empires across the stage of history for what is
needed is an awareness of the holy and dedication to the principle injunction in Vayikra, You shall be
holy because I am holy . A library should be a makom kodesh. It should be a space for the shekhinah.
Thus just as there is no eating or drinking for Maimonideans in olam ha-bah, nothing physical or
gashmius at all, thus the no eating sign in our libraries point to a metaphysical truth that the library is
indeed a makom kodesh. Whether we conceive of a makom kodesh as a beit midrash with the hum of
Talmudic debate or as a cloistered library scriptorium, a sancta silentia, in the end may be irrelevant.
That the library is a sacred space of noetic redemption is the ikkar. The library in our own times of the
dark ages is a sacred space of light that can allow us to see light in the light of the divine. The library is a
space in the world but not of the world for this sacred space can be indispensible in helping the soul
ultimately be ushered into eternal reward by virtue of what goes on in the sacred space of the library.

Each of us here in our lives is compelled to find their bearings by his or her own powers with help
hopefully from the powers of Hashem. We have no comfort in a Boethian sense, other than inherent in
this activity called thinking, critical analysis, and in general the search for wisdom, understanding, and
knowledge in the library research process. We cannot exert our understanding, without from time to
time understanding something of importance: and this act of understanding may be accompanied by an
awareness of our understanding, by understanding of understanding, by noesis noeseos, and that this is
so high, so pure, so noble an experience that Maimonides could ascribe it to HaShem gives ultimate
goodness to the world, because it is the home of the human and divine minds. By becoming aware of
the dignity of the human mind linked to the divine via the sekel hapoel, we realize the true ground of
the dignity of human beings created in the image of Hashem, i.e. possessing the active intellect which is
the kesher between human beings and Hashem. The world is the home of human beings created in the
image of Hashem however not only because of intellectual virtue but also moral and spiritual virtue.
Libraries as holy spaces and librarians as guardians of the bridge to the divine can shape patrons souls to
strive to balance the trinity of intellectual, moral, and spiritual virtue. May we gain therefrom further
insight about the balance all of us must strive for in working on ourselves, in shaping our souls, to
manifest the spark of divine being. Evidence of the human spirit devoted toward attaining to some form
of saintliness often leaves no traces, for angels it has been said popularly, often do not leave footprints.
Thus perhaps there is a tincture of truth in sefer Hasidims note that books on the shelves of libraries are
consulted not just be humans but by angelic intelligences. Today readers do not merely worship at the
library shrines of previous cultural harvests but readers can become involved in the process of textual
transmission as electronic, digital reproduction and rewriting allow readers unlimited editorial even
authorial autonomy so that we are perhaps returning more to the age of collective authorship.

The history of textual collections in the Middle Ages was not a time of The dark ages. The medieval
Enlightenment of Maimonides, Rabbi Levi ben Gerson, and Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy and many other great
thinkers was according to Leo Strauss far superior to the modern Enlightenment of the 18th century.
When we consider that so much knowledge was set to memory and recollection rather than reliance
on the written word, we must ponder in awe how laborious, artistic, and conscientious the medieval
scholars were. We must realize and confess that the Middle Ages rocked the cradle of our knowledge,
and that we might hope to see more clearly in via that light, in lupine too videbimus lumen, misnamed
the dark ages. Truly Librarians (custos librorum) should be the guardians and gate keepers of this light.
Safranim (from the root sofer or scribe) should not only guard and preserve this light, but cultivate this
light not necessarily in the Latin tradition of making the library associated with a scriptorium, but rather
by making libraries dynamic places where knowledge is not only gathered, but shaped, molded, and
cognized to shed insight on the past as a guide for the future and beyond even time itself. This light of
the shekhinah in which the Tzadikim bask is metaporized in language of gashmius, where these Tzadikim
enjoy in olam habah (figuratively) the wine reserved for the righteous in the world to come, yayin ha-
meshummar baanavav.428 That the gematria of yayin is 70 is not accidental for the gematria of sod is 70
as is the word bachayim which we remember particularly on Yom Kippur that we be remembered for
life in the upcoming new year. The metaphor of wine is significant. It is associated with Eliyahu ha-navi

See: Strauss, Leo, Philosophy and Law: Contributions to the Understanding of Maimonides and His
Predecessors, trans. By Eve Adler, NY: SUNY Press, 1995.
bBer 34b; bSanh 99a; Targum Ecces. 9:7; Bemidbar Rabbah 13:2; see Ginzberg, L., The Legends of the Jews, 6
vols, (Philadelphia, 1968), 5:29n.79, 284 n.93
at the Pesah seder and at a briss.429 This is the wine of redemption. The exposition of rabbinic texts, a
big Yeshiva in the heavens, is a view of what transpires at these banquets of the oral word, oral torah,
and oral transmission.

This eschatological wine in the name of Isaac the blind is the very opposite of the wine that Eve reportedly
gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden, for which she was punished by the blood of menstruation (see Ginzberg, L.,
Legends of the Jews 5:101 n.85; Ginzberg comments al pi kabbalah that the wine preserved for the righteous is
related to the view that the fruit which brought sin into the world will probably become a healing in the world ot
come citing Wayyikra Rabbah 12:5, ed. M. Margulies, (NY, 1993) 268. In this world the wine as an obstacle to the
world, but in the future the Holy One, blessed be He makes of it something joyous.